10:59 17.09.2021

US State Dept: Ukraine's judicial reform under threat, but there is still time to save it

6 min read
US State Dept: Ukraine's judicial reform under threat, but there is still time to save it

The refusal of the Council of Judges of Ukraine to appoint Ukrainian judges to restore the High Council of Justice threatens to thwart promises of real judicial reform in Ukraine, said US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

"In July, Ukraine enacted an historic law that provides an opportunity for true reform of the judiciary. International partners nominated highly qualified experts to support renewal of Ukraine's foremost judicial governance body, the High Council of Justice, in line with that law. On September 13, however, Ukraine's Council of Judges refused to nominate Ukrainian judges to participate in the process, a refusal that threatens to derail the promise of real judicial reform in Ukraine," Price said in a statement posted on the U.S. Department of State website on Thursday.

He stressed that there is still time to save these efforts if the Council of Judges nominates its candidates.

"There is still time to save this effort. The Council of Judges can fulfill its obligation to implement the law and put forward nominations," Price noted.

The Department of State official stressed that the United States, along with the Ukrainian government, civil society and other international partners, recognizes that judicial reform is critical to strengthening the rule of law and attracting foreign investment to Ukraine.

"We remain firmly committed to assisting in this critical reform so that the people of Ukraine may trust their courts and judges and so that Ukraine can continue on its path toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Judicial reform will bring more jobs and economic opportunities, as well as fairness and justice. The Ukrainian people deserve no less," Price said.

As reported, at their meeting on September 13, members of the Council of Judges refused to delegate their representatives to the Ethical Council, which is supposed to check the integrity of candidates and members of the HCJ.

According to Paragraph 6 of clause 23-1 of the final and transitional provisions of the law "On amendments to certain legislative acts of Ukraine concerning the procedure for election (appointment) to the positions of members of the High Council of Justice and the activities of disciplinary inspectors of the High Council of Justice" No. 1635-IX dated July 14, 2021, the subject of the formation of the Ethics Council submits to the chairman of the High Council of Justice a list of candidates for the Ethics Council within 30 days from the date of receipt of the corresponding appeal from the chairman of the Supreme Council of Justice.

The subject of the submission is, among other things, the Council of Judges of Ukraine, which is supposed to delegate three representatives to the Ethical Council, however, the Council of Judges was unable to delegate its representatives to the Ethical Council, which raised concerns about the progress of judicial reform due to the halt in the cleansing of the judicial system.

On July 8, on July 8, the head of state vetoed relevant bill No. 3711-d adopted by the parliament at the end of June, and on July 13 the Verkhovna Rada re-adopted the law, agreeing with the president's proposals.

The main proposal of the president to the bill on the restoration of the work of the HQCJ concerned clarifications on the adoption of a decision by the competition commission on the selection of its members with the participation of international experts. According to the law, the decision will be taken by four votes out of six if at least two representatives from international organizations voted for this decision.

In accordance with the law, the HQCJ is considered plenipotentiary if at least 11 members are appointed to its composition, at least six of which are appointed from among judges or retired judges.

Also, the parliament voted in favor of bill No. 5068, which amends the laws "On the rules of procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine" and "On the Supreme Council of Justice" concerning the creation of an Ethical Council, whose members will determine the compliance of a candidate for the post of a member of the HCJ with the criteria of professional ethics and integrity.

The first composition of the Ethics Council will include three persons from among judges or retired judges, determined by the Council of Judges of Ukraine, and three persons who will be selected by international organizations providing Ukraine over the past five years with international technical assistance in the field of judicial reform and prevention of corruption in accordance with international or interstate agreements.

Such international and foreign organizations agree on a proposal for a common list of candidates. In the future, the Ethics Council will include three persons from among the judges or retired judges proposed by the Council of Judges of Ukraine, one person proposed by the Council of Prosecutors of Ukraine, one - at the suggestion of the Council of Defense Lawyers of Ukraine and one more - proposed by the National Academy of Legal Sciences of Ukraine represented by presidium.

According to the cards of the bills, the President also signed laws on amendments to some laws on the procedure for election (appointment) to the positions of members of the High Council of Justice and the activities of disciplinary inspectors of the High Council of Justice (No. 5068) and on amendments to Articles 188-32 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses on the establishment of responsibility for failure to comply with the legal requirements of the disciplinary inspector of the High Council of Justice (No. 5069).

Bill No. 5069 establishes administrative liability for failure to comply with the legal requirements of the HCJ disciplinary inspector to provide information or documents, or to provide knowingly false information to a request on behalf of the HCJ.

On September 10, missions of international organizations and the diplomatic departments of the United States, Germany, Great Britain and Canada in Ukraine formed lists of experts for their selection and appointment to the Ethics Council under the High Council of Justice and the selection committee under the High Qualification Commission of Judges.

On September 16, a working meeting dedicated to judicial reform in Ukraine was held at the Office of the President with the participation of the Chairman of the Council of Judges, the Supreme Court, representatives of parliament, government, as well as ambassadors of the G7 countries and the European Union, following which its participants adopted a joint statement.

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