Reanimation package of reforms > News > Interview > Volodymyr Petrakovskyi: If you are losing faith in justice, start working in this area and fighting for justice

Volodymyr Petrakovskyi: If you are losing faith in justice, start working in this area and fighting for justice

“Not only did I not listen to the leadership of the prosecutor’s office, but also spread ‘my philosophy’ within the department … So I had to leave the prosecutor’s office.”

– Mr. Volodymyr, your life looks eclectic: working in the prosecutor’s office and the expert environment, which is not very much enjoyed by some law enforcement officials, studying at KNU and teaching at NaUKMA. Are these life circumstances or need for constant search?

– Actually, I don’t see any eclecticism here (smiles). Back in the university, I had a strong desire to dive into criminal justice, since then all of my work has been connected with it. I realized that I wanted to dedicate my career to it almost before graduation when I asked my colleagues, who were already working mostly at large and medium-sized law firms, what their job was. They replied: “Well, we take documents to different state bodies, courts, work with powers of attorney, contracts…” This answer did not seem appealing to me. Good thing was that I had someone to ask about the prosecutor’s office, because my dad was working there. He described his work as follows: “They give you a pile of materials, and you may do as you will.” The last words stood out in my mind, because I like working on a case on my own and bear responsibility for it. Back then, I still had a poor understanding of what the prosecutor’s job was, but this opportunity to take full responsibility certainly appealed to me. In addition, prosecutors, despite popular belief, generally work independently. Intervention takes place only when a case concerns someone “important” (as if the rest were not important). In all other respects, a prosecutor can act at his/her own discretion and risk. At least the law guarantees it. This is not the case for lawyers – even if you are a high-level specialist, a client, or a partner, or a senior lawyer, or a director will be setting the conditions… There are far more hierarchies in the private legal sector than in the prosecutor’s office.

– What are do you think of this page of life? What made you leave this system and get involved in the public sector?

– I was fired. Due to the institution reorganization. If there is no reason to dismiss a prosecutor, then they eliminate the subdivision which you work in, create a new one, and hire everyone but you (smiles). And they refuse to hire you because, according to them, you cause problems. You are unreliable. Because you do not listen to the management’s ideas. My case was clinical, as I not only disobeyed but also spread “my philosophy” within the department. Moreover, management’s attempts to negotiate with me have failed. So I had to leave the prosecutor’s office.

But overall, I think that this period of my life was very positive. If you love criminal law and process, this is probably the best job for you. It is very complex and equally interesting. Even though you work locally (local prosecutor’s office), you will have a number of cool cases – even ordinary theft or injuries can be complex, requiring not only legal knowledge but also well-developed soft skills. It seems to me that young people do not want to work in the prosecutor’s office, because they believe that the work is not intellectual. In fact, the level of tasks complexity is not inferior to that offered by private practice. And now the state provides no worse financial conditions for newcomers than most law firms.

– Then you started working in the public sector. What were your biggest achievements during this period?

– I am currently an expert at the Centre of Policy and Legal Reform and a leading advisor to NGO StateWatch. CPLR is the oldest and most respected think tank in Ukraine and needs no introduction. In StateWatch, I and my colleagues who are also graduates of T. Shevchenko KNU, Oleksandr Liemienov and Hlib Kanievskyi (graduated from the Faculty of Political Science), are working to ensure that law enforcement agencies, first of all, newly created ones (SBI, NABU, ARMA, etc.), are under high-quality, expert civil supervision. Oleksandr was a member of the competition commission of the State Bureau of Investigation for a long time, helped recruit people to the central office. Hlib heads the Public Council at the Asset Recovery and Management Agency (ARMA) and is very active in making this body transparent and understandable to all.

– How do you assess the role and influence of civil society institutions on public processes in Ukraine?

– The public is now promoting its agenda with varying success. However, overall, I have highest regard for the activities of NGOs over the last five years. After 2014, they were finally heard. They received the opportunity not only to influence public decisions, but also to correct them and even to develop them from scratch. So we can see an increase in their role. However, the public should not forget that the authorities are adapting, and therefore it should keep up.

Conceptually, the public sector can be divided into three major vectors – monitoring, expertise and advocacy (promotion of ideas, developments). There are organizations that deal with all areas, there are those that focus on only a few areas. At the same time, I want Ukraine to take over the world practices, and I want universities and research centers based on them to become responsible for the second vector (expertise). I am sure that such centers can offer even better products than NGOs currently do.

By the way, universities, even if funded by the state, should not be part of the government (state). Rather, they should act as mediators between the state and society.

The classic problem for Ukraine, when political power represented by the head of state directly and systematically communicates with the heads of law enforcement bodies, will remain.

– You have repeatedly been a claimant in disciplinary proceedings concerning the senior officials of the prosecutor’s office, in particular, regarding the violation of the presumption of innocence on their part in public statements. In your opinion, have these efforts influenced the lie of the land or do they still serve as the basis for a culture of official communication for the future?

– My colleagues and I had two cases of violation of the presumption of innocence: with respect to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine and the Chief Military Prosecutor of Ukraine. The Qualification and Disciplinary Commission dismissed the appeal in both cases, but the appeal against the decision on Anatolii Matios has been considered by the appellate body – the Supreme Council of Justice – for almost two years. But even if his actions are proven to be disciplinary offense, he will not be held accountable because all the terms have expired.

However, I must say that these processes had a real impact – mostly on Anatolii Matios rather than Yurii Lutsenko. Anatolii Matios has broken the habit of talking about criminal proceedings on Facebook in the aggressive manner. Journalists also became aware of this issue – they became more cautious and realized that one cannot call a person a corrupt official or a criminal for no good reason. After all, the presumption of innocence can be violated not only by a public servant, but also by a journalist, because they have a great deal of influence, access to information channels and can convince society that a person is guilty before a court decision is adopted. I am very pleased that our efforts were also supported by the Council of Europe office in Ukraine. It is currently implementing a project aimed at promoting human rights in Ukraine in the area of criminal justice. A separate component of this project is the block concerning the presumption of innocence. In fact, our cases serve as another testament to the fact that both public officials and society are forgetting about one of the most important principles of criminal justice in Ukraine.

– What are your current hopes for changes in the activities of law enforcement agencies? Will there be any progress or will everything be as before?

– It is quite difficult to talk about the old, because in five years there has been a lot of new and mostly positive changes, even in the areas that we have not heard about. There is a good progress, though not as global as we anticipated. I am convinced that the new government will achieve some success and make some mistakes. In my opinion, the biggest challenge for the prosecutor’s office will be not so much the mistakes of the prosecutor’s office reforms (they are bound to be), but the format of communications between the Prosecutor General and the President’s Office. This problem is a classic for Ukraine: when political power represented by the head of state directly and systematically communicates with the heads of law enforcement bodies and the Prosecutor General. I think it will not be eradicated. Nobody knows what forms this problem will take, but it will definitely have a negative impact on the President’s ranking and the reputation of the head of the prosecutor’s office. In other respects, in my opinion, things will move in the direction of change, and these changes will be at least half positive.

– Please comment on the recently created system of anti-corruption bodies (NABU, SAP, HACC) from a professional point of view. Where has progress been made, where do the old approaches still emerge?

– In general, I think it is more positive than negative. There were a lot of mistakes, but I will dwell on the most fundamental ones. It concerned the reform design – first a law enforcement agency was created and then a special prosecutor’s office was considered. It should have been the other way around. First, the concept of the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office and court should have been considered, and then they had to move on to the anti-corruption bureau. I think that the developers of anti-corruption reform simply did not have a comprehensive understanding of how the law enforcement system is built and functioning, what principles are enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine and the Criminal Procedure Code.

In addition, law enforcement authorities and prosecutor’s office are still a stranger to leadership. There is no understanding of who a CEO is and what his/her function is. Even the newly formed bodies we are talking about have very little freedom. As the heads of departments and services are unlikely to have a basic idea of leadership, they do not understand what they need to do. Instead, they continue to create excessively complex management structures, require daily, weekly, monthly, and other forms of reporting, and constantly resort to micromanagement. That is, the archaic practices that are inherent in the Prosecutor General’s Office, the police, the Security Service are still used. These two problems hinder the effectiveness of anti-corruption bodies.

– Do you recommend our students and graduates (Law Faculty of T. Shevchenko KNU) to focus on preparation for work in these bodies?

– Of course. I will tell you more: if a lawyer who has experience in financial, economic, civil law, decides to try his hand at law enforcement, his background will not be a burden or a disadvantage. On the contrary, experience in other practices is required to work in specialized anti-corruption bodies. After all, in many cases people hide their illegal activity by disguising it as legitimate financial and economic activity. Moreover, the work we are talking about is extremely intellectually complex and quite well paid. It is a daily work for the sake of the public interest on behalf of a society with good conditions. Therefore, I urge young lawyers who do not like the current state of criminal justice, or if they lose faith in justice, to start working in this area and fighting for justice. You will get good salary, complex work, and, even more so, personal development. In general, the quality of work of the newly created bodies and the working environment are completely different from those of the law enforcement agencies that existed before 2014.

Our state has not learned to hunt heads for its bodies… Instead, the best lawyers find themselves in law firms.

– Last year, you, together with Zlata Symonenko and Mariia Lysenko, started a truly incredible Criminal Justice in Action Summer School project. What do you think of young lawyers? Can they become the fresh blood of the law enforcement system?

– The summer school has been actually held for the fifth or sixth time. This is the idea offered by the US Embassy, however, we have modified it a bit and hopefully brought it to a new level (smiles). Three years ago, I was a participant in this event myself and I can say that the level of students (3d-6th year students of law faculties, as well as representatives of NGOs) is higher and higher every year. Young people are very smart and motivated, the command of English is constantly increasing… They lack the understanding of what the law enforcement agencies are, what their competence is, how a work day looks like, what they are aiming at, what their standards of work, remuneration, etc. are. However, summer school, in particular, gives students an understanding of these things.

Our state has not learned to hunt heads for its bodies, no matter what sphere of public service is concerned. Instead, the best lawyers find themselves in law firms that have been building a search and recruitment system for themselves for years.

First of all, our school aims to share the best Ukrainian and US (from FBI agents, federal prosecutors, US attorneys) experience avoiding the old Soviet school approaches. Yes, Ukraine and the USA has different legal cultures, but there are many similarities in criminal procedural rules and in the logic of criminal proceedings. Another goals is to show young people that working in law enforcement is extremely prestigious and interesting, no less than in law firms – here you can gain incredible experience and a reputation without corruption schemes.

This year, we invited the Head of the High Anti-Corruption Court, which has not yet started working, but which has high hopes pinned on, prosecutors of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, NABU detectives, Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine (Vitalii Kasko), Oleksandr Banchuk, who is the co-author of the Criminal Procedural Code of Ukraine and other equally great experts, to out large-scale event. Coaches are available to the summer school students almost 24/7, i.e. not only during the training part, but also during breakfasts, lunches, group games, campfire chats, etc. Young people had the opportunity to get first-rate expertise on issues that concern them and to hear the personal stories of the best experts in the field.

– Could a similar project be implemented at the law faculty?

– Definitely, the faculties should implement such things. For example, the participants of this year’s summer school told me that the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University does a two-day criminal law school. However, such activities should be as inclusive and open to students as possible. They are thrilled to be able to communicate with peers from other law schools. Young people learn about a wide range of tastes, views, doctrines, approaches to certain aspects of law. Students communicate, enter into discussions, initiate any collaborations.

We, being an independent structure, are trying to get the most mixed audience possible. We have a rule: if we have applicants from the leading law universities and from Rivne or Uzhhorod who have the same scores, then we give preference to a student from Rivne or Uzhhorod. This is not because we discriminate against top law schools. On the contrary, most of our students are students from these schools. We want to provide opportunities for students in as many law schools as possible.

I also want to warn universities: one should not pursue the ideal in trying to organize such educational events – this wrong. Every year, they need to improve, analyze mistakes, encourage students to give feedback and take into account their wishes. They should not think that the initiation, development of a certain regulation and its approval by the rector is a real success. They need to change every year.

– Now you are also a senior lecturer at the Law Faculty at NaUKMA. Can you point out the positive features of the highly praised “Mohyla spirit”? What can we use in our alma mater?

– Yes, actually National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy boasts a number of things that should be used by other Ukrainian universities. For example, attitude towards students. At NaUKMA, a student is a minimally-cared-for adult without any signs of paternalism. For the university, faculty management, a student is rather a client. You can feel it. The student body has a great deal of freedom, starting with being able to choose the person in charge of the group or class. The procedure is quite “adult”: they hold general meeting, candidates who can campaign for themselves, convince others why they deserve this status, are nominated. I believe that such a degree of freedom motivates young people to take responsibility for their own choices and their own actions. Therefore, I can advise the university I attended to put such things into practice – it should definitely change the current state of affairs and benefit the alma mater as a whole.

– Could you go back to the prosecutor’s office theoretically? What chunk of knowledge and values would you take into this system after working in the public sector?

– I think I might come back in 5-7 years. First of all, I want to resume my job in the prosecutor’s office as a Doctor of Law. As for my experience in the public sector, in three years I have realized many things. I managed to realize that any situation in the public sector is a project that needs to be managed. It should be borne in mind that the available resources are limited and this should be considered first. Currently, public authorities work as if their human and financial resources are inexhaustible. First and foremost, it concerns law enforcement agencies and prosecutor’s office seeking to investigate all possible crimes. The developed world understands that this is an unacceptable approach, because prosecutors in Western countries are always thinking about whether it is worth spending the resource and are not trying to do everything. Even if we extend the state apparatus, which is already extended, it is still impossible to investigate all the crimes – you just have to learn to efficiently manage the available resources. I recorded this idea back in my college years, and I tried it out in practice thanks to my work in the public sector.

I have also realized that you need to interact a lot more with the people who work in your field, even if you are the Prosecutor General. In the field of criminal justice, there is a bunch of different stakeholders – investigative bodies, government agencies, NGOs, international communities. They are represented by many different people with interesting experiences and unique opinions. Nowadays, according to the current practice, the interest of one of the subjects, such as the Prosecutor General’s Office, prevails in the course of making the public decision.

We thank Mr. Volodymyr for the very informative talk and conclude with the traditional blitz interview questions.

  1. Three discoveries made during your studies at our University Law Faculty.
  2. The world is built and destroyed by intelligence. No power or authority will conquer intelligence. Therefore, a lawyer must understand that intelligence is his/he religion. Only then will the argument, rather than the power and status, matter.
  3. You need to be bolder in asking yourself and others right questions, especially those that are smarter and more competent than you are.
  4. You have to shine with excitement, have a passion for some sphere, rather than just monetize your profession. Have a goal and keep it in mind, whether you are a teacher or an expert, a practitioner or a public servant.
  5. Three legal books that you recommend reading.
  6. The Morality of Law by Lon L. Fuller
  7. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  8. Doing Justice by Preet Bharara
  9. Three non-legal books that you recommend reading.
  10. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  11. Individualism and Economic Order by Friedrich August von Hayek
  12. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by James C. Collins, Morten T. Hansen
  13. Three problems of the domestic law enforcement system that need to be addressed first.
  14. Accept the idea that resources are scarce, therefore they need to be managed efficiently. In particular, priorities should be given to: for example, protecting the life, health of people, their freedom. That is, in order to investigate these crimes, you can give up investigating a car theft.
  15. Prosecutors are agents of justice, therefore they must be independent of their supervisors. In fact, their supervisors do not have many legal powers, but instead they bear sole responsibility for the criminal proceedings.
  16. Legislation is an important tool, but if law enforcement officials do not have the appropriate hard skills and soft skills, they will fail to succeed in their activities. Therefore, first of all, they should make a lot of efforts for self-improvement.
  17. Three tips for our students and alumni.

This year, in honor of the convocation (graduation ceremony), I wrote a short letter to my first students. That’s kind of a tip from me. I think I can also address it to the students and alumni of Shevchenko University. See them by the link.

Source: Alumni Association of T. Shevchenko KNU Law Faculty