Claw me and I’ll claw thee, or Judicial reform in action

On 5-6 March, in Kyiv, several hundred judges from all over Ukraine will gather at a regular congress to select a new composition of the Council of Judges of Ukraine and delegate their representatives to the key judicial authorities – the High Council of Justice and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges.

They were the ones who, after the reform, received great powers in matters related to judicial career.

The High Qualifications Commission of Judges is responsible for competition and qualification of judges. The High Council of Justice appoints, dismisses, punishes for the disciplinary offenses and even gives permission to detain and arrest.

To recap, earlier these powers belonged to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and because of the stall in the parliament, a notorious judge, Chaus, who buried a jar of money in his garden, was able to flee the justice.

Judicial reform gave hope for optimization of career processes. It was also a chance to cleanse and significantly upgrade the judicial system. The demand for that within the society was and remains huge, but is there any change?

Anti-Maidan judges still go unpunished, and 27 dishonest judges were brought to the new Supreme Court, which has been repeatedly protested against by the public and warned about by international experts.

There may be many reasons for this, but one of the key indicators is the composition of the bodies that make such important decisions and their understanding of the notion of integrity.

In order for changes to happen and create confidence, the High Council of Justice and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges must consist of people with impeccable reputation and strong authority.

The law sets a large quota for judges in these bodies. Half the composition of the High Qualifications Commission of Judges (8 out of 16) and almost half of the High Council of Justice (10 out of 21) are members elected by the congress of judges. These are active or former judges.

So, the judges elected by the judges themselves have the advantage in the key judicial authorities.

This is a traditional practice for European countries, but the level of trust in the judicial system there is much higher.

In Ukraine, according to the latest data from the Razumkov Centre, public’s confidence in judicial institutions is at a disgracefully low level – only 1.3% of Ukrainians can say that they fully trust the courts.

It is logical that in such a situation judges elected by judges raise a lot of questions and get justifiable attention. On Monday, 5 March, judges will delegate four new representatives to the High Council of Justice and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges.

However, the list of applicants for these positions raises serious doubts that only the best ones will take the seats.

Instead, half of the candidates to the High Council of Justice and more than 70% of the candidates to the High Qualifications Commission of Judges raise a lot of questions.

The CHESNO movement as part of the CHESNO.Filter the Judiciary! Campaign analysed all 34 candidates to the High Council of Justice and eight candidates in the High Qualifications Commission of Judges. This analysis resulted in publication of the list of so-called “dark-horse” candidates who are not fit for such high and respectable posts.

For example, will Vitalii Snehirov, who has been trying to get there for the second year in a row, help to restore confidence in the judicial system and improve the effectiveness of the work of the High Council of Justice?

While adjudicating property cases in Kyiv and Odesa, this Chernihiv judge contributed to the illegal seizure of property and risked being dismissed, but miraculously, the High Council of Justice did not vote for this.

For the second year in a row, Oksana Epel, a judge from the capital, who is known for her considerable wealth, is also trying to get to the High Council of Justice. Serhii Koziakov, chairman of the High Qualifications Commission of Judges, commented on her immodest lifestyle during the judge’s qualification evaluation.

However, cars and property of more than 800 square metres do not prevent Oksana Epel from renting a room in the dormitory, presumably waiting for a free state-owned housing that she is entitled to as a judge.

By the way, providing judges with a free housing, as foreseen by law, causes a lot of unpleasant situations for taxpayers, since judges massively buy out these apartments.

For example, judge Oleksandr Slipchenko even reached ECHR to seek allocating the funds for the acquisition of apartments for him and other judges of the Kyiv Regional Court of Appeal.

However, he immediately bought out the received housing, which made it impossible to further use it according to its official purposes i.e. as an apartment for other judges of this court after Slipchenko’s dismissal.

Viktor Haponchuk also wants to become a member of the High Qualifications Commission of Judges. He helped his fellow-judge to avoid responsibility for drunk driving.

Judges Anatolii Zahorodnii and Tetiana Chumachenko also stood up for their colleagues and cancelled the decision of the High Council of Justice (to which they themselves are now applying) to dismiss the judges who adopted the decisions against EuroMaidan activists on the grounds of violation of the oath.

Such cases are rather revealing, because they remind us of the uniquely persistent phenomenon of the conspiracy of silence in the system, which is one of the key obstacles to its cleansing.

Continuing the topic of the decisions against the EuroMaidan activists, it is important to understand that judges who made such decisions are unlikely to punish others for this.

However, such people are now the candidates to the High Council of Justice.

In particular, the question arises, what decisions are going to be adopted in the High Council of Justice by Oksana Khoroshun, dismissed in December 2017 by the same High Council of Justice for rulings against EuroMaidan activists. By the way, she is applying both to the High Council of Justice and to the High Qualifications Commission of Judges.

These are just a few examples of candidates who do not belong to the High Qualifications Commission of Judges and the High Council of Justice, but they vividly demonstrate the glaring vulnerabilities of the system, which should be fought not only by the public but also by its members if they want to restore public’s confidence and judicial authority in the community.

Full list of “dark horse” candidates can be found on the website of “CHESNO.Filter court!” Campaign.
Liliya Drozdyk, CHESNO.Filter the Judiciary!, specially for Ukrainska Pravda.