No Political Justice System!

On 22 July 2010 President Yanukovych was sent an appeal to veto the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges”

The urgent need for judicial reform is undisputed and there are a number of positive features to this law. There are, however, provisions which do not comply with either the Constitution or European standards.

They jeopardize the independence of judges and access for all citizens to fair court proceedings.

Therefore, we are perplexed as to why on July 7, 2010 the Verkhovna Rada hurriedly passed the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges” and why the Speaker of the VR on 22 July signed this document.

In doing so they ignored:

- Comments from the Central Legal Department on the draft law, both for the first and the second readings, which point to provisions in breach of the Constitution and Verkhovna Rada Regulations, as well as those clashing with other legislative documents;

- Doubts regarding some elements of this law expressed on a number of occasions not only by Ukrainian specialists, but by the Co-Rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] and some members of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. The PACE Co-Rapporteurs pointed to a “number of potentially politically motivated provisions” and expressed concern over the President’s recent appointment of Valery Khoroshkovsky, Head of the Security Service [SBU] and media owner to the High Council of Justice especially given the “potential conflicts of interest as it is the State Security Service that is responsible for investigating any allegations against judges in Ukraine”;

- No sign of the promised Opinion from the Venice Commission. This is especially strange in view of the meeting in Strasbourg on April 27, 2010 between President Yanukovych and the Head of the Venice Commission. After all, the President’s website informed that the President had “initiated the meeting to discuss the process of judicial reform in Ukraine and in consideration of the need for the Commission to carry out an expert assessment of our draft judicial reform”.
The adoption by parliament of this law on July 7 is staggering since just days before a number of media outlets reported mixed preliminary views from members of the Venice Commission on the draft law, including talk of “problem areas”. The argument that a number of recommendations made earlier had been taken into account is hardly convincing, firstly because the concerns are over new features introduced by President Yanukovych in May of this year.
Secondly, it turned out the Venice Commission received only the draft law in its first reading. Forced by the authorities’ lack of communication with the public, we wrote to the Venice Commission and received a response from the Head of the Commission stating that “these comments, due to lack of sufficient time, were quite preliminary indeed. They also do not relate to the final version of the law as adopted and do not relate to the law on the abuse of the right to appeal”.

In view of the very considerable threat to judicial independence and accident to all levels of fair court proceedings, we are asking the President to veto this Law and return it to the Verkhovna Rada with his suggestions.

Time was of the essence and we sent information how and where we could, including abroad. Over just 5 days 130 civic organizations and concerned individuals responded, including many from Canada, the USA and Australia.

They are all aware of the vital importance for Ukraine’s development and economic prosperity of an independent and impartial court. It was precisely this that the President spoke of during the meeting on 27 April with the Head of the Venice Commission, noting quite correctly that “it’s impossible to attract foreign investment without an effective and efficient judiciary”.

The appeal stresses that if the President passes the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges” in the version passed, citizens will receive a swift, but unfair justice system from dependent judges.

If the law comes into effect, it will cause irreparable damage to economic prospects and the development of a law-based democracy in Ukraine, as well as to the country’s reputation in the world.

Help us to say a decisive NO to a politicized justice system!

The Appeal: in English: http://www.khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1279321001 (signatures can be seen here: http://www.helsinki.org.ua/index.php?id=1279436602 )
„Political Justice System” http://www.helsinki.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1279539371
“New Law on the Judicial System: hasty, low quality justice from intelligent but dependent judges , I. Koliushko, R. Kuybida, Centre for Political and Legal Reform khpg.org/index.php?id=1279160834
Letter to the Venice Commission http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/74408/ http://eng.maidanua.org/node/1110

Halya Coynash
(for the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, and others)

( categories: Editorials )