On June 2, 2016, the Verkhovna Rada plans to consider the amendments to the Constitution on justice simultaneously with the new version of the law “On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges.”
On May 30, the President submitted to the parliament a new version of the draft law “On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges” No. 4734 (hereinafter – draft law No. 4734). Unfortunately, this draft law does not meet the expectations of the public as to the conduct of a complex judicial reform, recruitment of new judges, and ensuring of judges’ independence.
Key drawbacks of the draft law:
- heads and deputy heads of the courts appointed during the presidency of Yanukovych, who are used to fulfilling political orders, will be able to keep their offices for another six years, while the President will sign their certificates in violation of the Constitution;
- the draft law does not formalize any renewal of appellate courts; even if there are vacancies, they could be filled only with judges with the prior judicial experience of at least five years;
- to be appointed for an indefinite term, the judges appointed for five years during the presidency of Yanukovych shall not participate in the competition alongside other experts, so that the best candidates be selected, but shall only undergo a qualification assessment;
- the public will have no effective measures of influence on the selection and assessment of judges: opinion of the newly established Public Integrity Council will not be decisive for the qualification assessment of judges’ integrity, nor will it have any effect on the competition to fill the offices in local courts; the Qualification Commission of Judges shall include more members, but not from the public;
- although the draft law does formalize establishment of the Supreme Anticorruption Court as the court of first instance, it postpones it for an indefinite term; the status of this court does not provide additional safeguards of independence (special selection procedure, higher wages, its own budget, etc.);
- the draft law significantly limits the right to videotape open court sessions.
If the drawbacks are not corrected, the negative situation in the judicial system will not change, while political authorities will continue to manipulate the judges with the help of the heads of courts.
In addition, if amendments to the law on the High Council of Justice are not prepared and introduced on time, no judge could be brought to disciplinary responsibility, including dismissal, once the amendments to the Constitution and the new law on the judiciary come into force.
The RPR experts have already stressed that despite certain drawbacks, the amendments to the Constitution might give a boost to a full-fledged judicial reform. However, these amendments should be supported with a package of implementation laws adopted simultaneously with the amendments to the Constitution that would provide for:
- clear deadlines for transition to a three-tier court system and reorganization of the higher courts shall be set;
- competitive selection of judges to the courts of all levels shall be introduced;
- in the course of assessment of judges, the public should have a decisive vote on the judges’ integrity;
- new standards of labor remuneration of the judges who passed the competition or the assessment should be introduced.
We would also like to draw your attention to the lack of implementation laws that regulate the issues of the Bar, access to the legal profession, competitive selection of the Prosecutor General and the judges of the Constitutional Court, changes in the Constitutional Court’s powers, including the procedure of considering constitutional complaints.
Therefore, we do not support the idea of adopting the amendments to the Constitution and the law on the judiciary and the status of judges as a whole on June 2, 2016.
We call on the MPs of Ukraine:
- to observe the parliamentary procedure – adopt the draft law No. 4734 in the first reading with its subsequent finalization for the second reading;
- only then – and after considering the comments of experts regarding the draft law No. 4734 – to adopt the law simultaneously with the amendments to the Constitution on justice.