13:16 30.10.2015

Corrupt judges continue to work in Ukraine - Pyatt

4 min read
Corrupt judges continue to work in Ukraine - Pyatt

Ukraine's judiciary can work without political interference and corruption, but corrupt judges are still on the job as lustration in the country is incomplete, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt has said.

"While that process continues, Ukraine can also push forward in three areas to strengthen judicial independence, accountability, and integrity. First, implement the Law on Restoration of Trust in the Judiciary. Lustration is incomplete. More than a year into the process, corrupt judges are still on the job. Judges continue to go unpunished when they disregard human rights and demonstrate contempt for the rule of law," he said at the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council and Kyiv School of Economics Conference on Legal and Governance Reform on October 30.

According to him, the Interim Special Commission for Vetting Judges needs more time to complete its vital work and the judiciary needs to act on its recommendations so that the lustration process brings real results.

The U.S. ambassador also called on the Ukrainian authorities to strengthen judicial self-governance so that Ukraine's judiciary can work without political interference and corruption.

"When an influential or corrupt person calls, looking to buy a decision or threaten a judge, that judge should be able to hang up the phone fully confident that he or she is shielded by her independence and protected by the judiciary. Judges should feel empowered and protected to act independently, knowing they will not face punishment or reprisal for deciding a case on its legal - not political – merits," he said.

In his words, the Constitutional Commission has proposed changing Ukraine's Constitution to strip the Parliament, the Presidential Administration and the Cabinet of the right to appoint judges, establish, or abolish courts, or make decisions about how funds supporting judicial operations are spent. However, those amendments alone will not guarantee judicial independence.

"To succeed, judges need to understand the scope of their independence and exercise it with confidence and, critically, integrity. At the same time, other branches of government must give up control – control that has given them power, influence, and, in many cases, opportunities for corruption," he said.

He also said that Ukrainian prosecutors must abandon the Soviet legacy of political control and corruption which has allowed the powerful – including those in government – to get away with influence peddling and human rights abuses.

"These acts of impunity undermine the rule of law and Ukraine's future place in Europe's community of free, prosperous, democratic nations," he said.

"The Prosecutor General's office must stop undermining reforms, stop protecting corrupt prosecutors within its ranks, such as the notorious “diamond prosecutors” arrested in July, and stop blocking criminal investigations into bribery, graft, and political dealing," he added.

In his words, the United States is committed to supporting an effective Prosecutor General's Office which Ukrainians can trust.

He praised the deputies of the prosecutor general, Davit Sakvarelidze and Vitaliy Kasko, who are working establish an independent Inspector General to investigate and prosecute corrupt individuals within the Prosecutor General's Office.

"We hope the Prosecutor General's office will provide Inspectors General Sakvarelidze and Kasko with the resources and authority they need to seek more convictions and restore public trust in the PGO," he said.

"Kasko's comments to the media this week that he and other reformers within the PGO are under intense pressure are very worrisome, a sign that the battle between Old Ukraine and New Ukraine rages within this critical institution. I have discussed with Prosecutor General [Viktor] Shokin our strong support for a new regulation on the independent operations of the Office of Inspector General (IG) that meets western standards and clearly defines the IG's jurisdiction, powers, and authority, in order to enable it to perform its functions in a manner that is effective and credible," he added.