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Opposition leader slams court law

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July 8, 2010, 11:14 a.m. | Ukraine — by Peter Byrne

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko sounded off on July 8 in Kyiv about the adoption of a controversial judicial 'reform' law.
© tymoshenko.com.ua

The pro-presidential majority parliament coalition passed the Law on the Judiciary and Judge Status during a 5-hour evening session on July 7.

The timing of the actual vote coincided almost exactly with the start of the semi-final World Cup match between the Spanish and German teams. But opposition lawmakers and independent political analysts were playing close attention to the procedings in the legislative chamber.

Almost unanimously, they said the next day that implementation of the law will further infringe on the rights of citizens to defend themselves in court, lead to an increase in petitions by Ukrainian citizens to the European Court for Human Rights, and destroy Ukraine’s unified judicial system.

Especially furious was opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister and leader of the he Batkyvshchyna [Fatherland] party.
The new law practically changes the state status of the Ukraine’s jurisprudence, in spite of the Constitution and the Constitutional Court ruling," Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on July 8. “After passing such a law, we can now say with certainty that Ukrainian citizens no longer have a legislature. They have a majority [coalition], which clumsily, irresponsibly and unprofessionally serves the interests of one Donetsk clan.

Adoption of the 151-page bill paves the way for the creation of two additional high courts, the High Civil Court and High Criminal Court, and reduces the number of Supreme Court justices from 96 to 20. If signed into law, the measure would also expand the authority of the High Council of Justice, which is responsible for nominating and dismissing the nation’s 10,000 judges.

Presenting the measure at an evening plenary session attended by only 30 lawmakers, Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, said the new law had already been sent to the Venice Commission, also known as the European Commission for Democracy through Law, for an assessment.

“[This law] cannot please the entire court system and all legal eagles,” Lavrynovych said. “But it will bring justice closer to citizens. “

Viktor Shvets, a member of Yulia Tymoshenko’s faction who heads the Rada Committee on Law-enforcement Legislation, disagreed, saying the conceptual tenets of the bill - introduced by the president on May 31 and passed in its first reading on June 3 - contradict the Constitution.

“The haste with which the Party of Regions is considering this bill is politically motivated with the aim of subjugating Ukraine’s court system to a small number of people,” Shvets said.

Serhiy Taran, a political analyst and director of the Kyiv-based International Democracy Institute, expressed the same view.

“Passage of the law is part of an obvious attempt by presidential administration to increase its control over all branches of government. The judiciary is a particularly easy target because no one trusted judges in the first place.” Taran said. “Whereas judges were beholden to competing political groups under the old system, they now will be subservient to just one group.”


The heads of two Kyiv-based non-governmental organizations promoting rule of law on July 8 said they did yet know what to make of the law because they had not had time to read all the changes.

“Passage of the law destroys the independence of the judiciary, which will now be subordinated to one clan, the one currently in power,” says an open letter signed on July 8 by Shvets, Serhiy Mishchenko, chairman of the Rada’s Legal Affairs Committee, former Foreign Minister Borys Tararsyuk, chairman of the Rada’s European Integration Committee, and Olena Shustik, deputy head of the Rada’s Legal Affairs Committee.

Ukraine’s court system has for years been widely regarded as corrupt. The Justice Ministry last year reported survey results revealing that only 10 percent of respondents trusted the nation’s court system. Less than 30 percent believed that it’s still possible to get a fair trial.

Under the new law, all issues linked to the election and dismissal of judges elected for an indefinite term should be considered by the Higher Qualified Commission of Judges of Ukraine and the High Council of Justice.

  • The Higher Qualified Commission of Judges of Ukraine consists of 11 members. It is composed of two judges appointed by a congress of representatives of legal educational institutions and scientific establishments, as well as one judge each appointed by Ukraine's justice minister, the Verkhovna Rada human rights commissioner and the head of the State Judicial Administration of Ukraine.
  • The High Council of Justice is a 20-member panel empowered under the Constitution with vetting candidates and disciplining judges for violating their oath.

Under the new law, the president would lose the right to appoint members of the Higher Qualified Commission. But he would still retain power over the judiciary. He has authority, with the agreement of the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court chairman, or of a corresponding higher specialized court, to establish and abolish courts of general jurisdiction. The president also determines the number of judges in the court system.

The new law also foresees the strengthening of penalties for the non-fulfillment of court rulings and stricter penalties for contempt of court. In addition, it obliges judges declare their expenses if they exceed the amount of their monthly salary.

Thomas Markert, Venice Commission Secretary, told the German information agency Deutsche Welle on July 4 that the latest version of the law indeed reflected some recommendations by his commission, but it remained "too complicated." The Venice Commission will only be able to complete its review in October, he said.

Addressing the Strategic U.S.-Ukraine Partnership Commission in Kyiv two days earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said she was encouraged by the Ukrainian government’s commitment to reaching European standards and eagerness to work with the Venice Commission on judicial reform.
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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 2:21 p.m.    

amazing - Rada passes a law that still is under review by Venice Commision which already has said it is too complicated.

I am not surprised by this action of Ukraine politicians, but i am really amazed by the lack of judgement the show to all the Ukrainian people. Only 30 lawmakers present to this session also show the lack of interest - or should i say planned way of directing this law in Rada.

This action should alert the IMF and tell the EU that Ukraine is not ready to handle corruption or haing a democracy were the juduciary is independent of the lawmakers. In this case they oppose the general agreement made between IMF and the government, that transparency and reforms were needed to crete a sustainable Ukrainian economy.

This law creates the opposite effect - it will distance the law from the people an concentrate the power to few, opposite of democratic development needs.

As stated in KP article, US secretary of State was led to believe that the president wanted to approach the Eurpean standards, and not distance itself from them.

I think we begin to see that there is only retorics in the President talks with US, EU and other potential partners. There is no will neither by him nor the prime minister to achieve something close to democratic development of Ukraine.

Legislative forces join the law makers through laws like this is not for the good of the people, and they need to react NOW, before its too late.

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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 4:40 p.m.    

Why is it amazing that the law is passed whilst still under the Venie Commission's review.

Firstly, at least they had a chance to review it and make some recommendations that were included, and foreign independent review has been lacking from anything Ukraine has done since independence and secondly, it is not signed into law yet.

It is not as though Ukraine had to send it to the Venice Commssion at all for their OK is it.

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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 5:15 p.m.    

You as for 16 + billion USD loan from international society, and think you can just opt out whenever it suits you? Amazing.

Another thing, it should be a well thought through decision to alter legislation at this level, and therefor no rush needed, unless alternate motives are adressed here.

Why not wait till Venice commission has reviewed it and made their comments on it, it should serve Ukraine best, especially after the president publically together with the US secretary of State says its Ukraine's intention to approach European standards.

Whether you like it or not is not the case here, its the rules of the game and what you state in public that counts, not feelings and a big ego. It is about Ukraine future, and nothing is lost by listening to others, never hurts.

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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 6:34 p.m.    

It is not law yet - do you not think you should hold your ire until it is?

As for your comment to the first poster and the person who responded to them I would draw your attention to the fact that EU members can opt out of EU decisions and indeed veto them if they wish, including those who will recieve IMF help in the near future no doubt.

The whole point of sovereignty is that you can opt out and make your own decisions.

I would agree that there is no rush and that waiting for the Venice Commission to finish its review is fair enough, however even after that review is completed, it is up to Ukraine to adopt any recommendations made or not.

I would say it is a plus point that the Venice Commission has even seen this and that some recommendations made have been already added, which is more than has ever happened before.

Ukraine though is a soveriegn nation, and like the EU members can completely opt out of EU dictats, Ukraine can decide to impliment none, some or all Venice Commission recommendations.

The fact it has already put some recommendations into the document is already a plus wouldn't you agree?

Again, I say I agree that there is no rush and that Ukraine should wait to get all the recommendations and then chose which they will put into any finished document but as a soverign nation we have to respect the right to do as they please.

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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 8:49 p.m.    

I do not diagree with you on three points,

Ukraine is a sovereign state and can make its decisions it like, however need to take the consequences of it. Any responsibility carry consequences with them. So, if Ukraine opt out not listen to international voices, there will most likely be consequences for it (red statement from US Secretary of State - no more retorics, we need action)

I also agree, that it is good the Venice commission has seen the document, but has to correct you, this work is funded by EU - legal reform project money (around 6 million USD), so i would expect no less.

Last, but not least, yes it is not yet a law, until the President signs it. And he has maybe listened in to the debate in the aftermath of the Rada decision, and make his logical choice based on this.

However, we seem to agree, it would be more than fiar to wait till the commission has told its view and learn from it.

I thank you for constructive critisism, i like this very much,

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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 7:06 p.m.    

Cut the BS &amp; put Yanukovych's Gestapo SBU in charge so ALL real patriots and Nationalists can be arrested and GULAGed and maybe that way can prevent the upcoming revolution to restore independence!

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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 7:42 p.m.    

A paragraph that actually needs some consideration amongst all of this disconcerting reporting is:

&quot;Ukraine’s court system has for years been widely regarded as corrupt. The Justice Ministry last year reported survey results revealing that only 10 percent of respondents trusted the nation’s court system. Less than 30 percent believed that it’s still possible to get a fair trial.&quot;

This has not happened in the last 150 days has it. This is still the case despite tens of millions of Euro being given to Ukraine by the EU for &quot;rule of law&quot; and &quot;judicial reforms&quot; over the past 6 years.

Why has it taken so long to actually do anything at all? There is a fairly large amount of ECHR rulings against Ukraine which have not been acknowledged by Ukraine over the past 6 years and yet the EU has continued to throw money at a problem that has not improved at all over that time.

It is all very well to be outraged (and probably rightly, although I have yet to read the law) but should we also not be equally outraged at the fact, despite being paid to change this over the last 6 years, nothing changed in that time?

Where did the EU money go? Where were the changes?

They are all the same in the RADA it seems, regardless of party color.

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Anonymous July 8, 2010, 8:43 p.m.    

This is correct, and all the committees sat down on this EU money has worked thousands of pages of elaborations and recommendations, but no politician has taken any action on any items adressed by these bodies.

Also, seceral educational projects have been initiated, for what purposes? What does it help to send highly skilled and talented law students abroad to learn about international law and how human rights are regulated in laws, and how to regulate any regime to ensure independence between the legislative and judiciary sector of the society. This has yet not found place in Ukraine, as most judiciary functions are related to party color.

We can not blame present president and prime minister for nothing done so fr, however, we are required and under obligation to critisize present regime for doing hasty law making (start with the constitutional ammendement for faction forming in Rada). This is not what legislators should do, and they have a responsibility to listen to advice from internal and external expertice when making drastic reforms.

In this case the Venice Commission has said they will conlcude their comments in October, despite this, they hasty make a deicision in Rada, about legislation that affect individual Ukrianian rights.

As for the tax reform, they send it out on a &quot;hearing&quot; for 2 months, in order to &quot;listen&quot; to the people. This, they send out. Why not send this out to the people for &quot;hearing&quot; since it has equal importance for the civil rights of Ukrainians.

I agree, something should have happened over the last 6 years, however, it has not, but that does not say we should let it repeat itself again. Ukraine has a chance to make things better for themselves, to ensure international recognition, not only for being a country regulated by law, but also a predicatble regime for investors, which Ukraine so badly needs now.

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