I was disappointed to read the Kyiv Post’s Nov. 5 opinion piece “Rule of lawlessness prevails in this nation.”
The piece seems to reflect a misunderstanding of the remarks made by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft and the chief of party of the USAID Ukraine Rule of Law Project, David Vaughn, at the Oct. 26-27 USAID Ukraine Rule of Law conference.
A free and open discussion of judicial independence and transparency is critical to promote judicial reform in Ukraine, and USAID provided such a forum at this event. A diverse group of Ukrainian judges, legal experts and NGO leaders participated, and the event was deliberately open to the press.
The conference occurred just 10 days after the Venice Commission – the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters – issued its opinions on the Law on the Judiciary and Status of Judges. It was the first public event at which the strengths and weaknesses of the new judiciary law were discussed, and at the conference key policymakers made public commitments to amend the law in line with the Venice Commission’s critique.
USAID supports open dialogue on what can be done to improve the judiciary in Ukraine. There is no doubt that improvements are needed. However, over the past few years there has been progress in many areas. USAID’s work has promoted automated case management, which is key to reducing corruption and increasing transparency in the judicial system, and we have achieved the adoption of ethics rules for the more than 35,000 court staff in Ukraine.
Thanks to USAID’s work, the new law includes positive features, such as requiring anonymous judicial testing and the rating of candidates online, which improves judicial selection. The law strengthens judicial disciplinary procedures by giving any citizen the right to file a complaint directly with a national disciplinary body using an online form; it also requires the posting of disciplinary decisions on the Web. These enhancements were the direct result of USAID’s work on judicial selection and discipline.
In his remarks at the conference, Ambassador Tefft said he was pleased with passage of the new law on the judiciary – but noted key Venice Commission concerns, including “problems related to the new status of the Supreme Court and in the increased role of the High Council of Justice in the appointment and dismissal of judges.” The Ambassador added that he was pleased that the Ukrainian government supports the Commission’s opinion and is dedicated to improving the law and continuing the judicial reform process.
The conference resulted in more than 30 substantive recommendations to improve the law in line with Venice Commission opinions. The attendees also identified more than a dozen specific recommendations for amending the Constitution to promote “judicial independence and the rights of citizens to get a fair trial,” including adding into Section II of the Constitution a provision on a person’s right to fair trial within a reasonable time (in accordance with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights).
USAID will continue to work with policymakers and civil society in their efforts to improve the law in line with Venice Commission opinions. We believe it is critical that the Ukrainian government meets its public commitments to implementing the Venice Commission’s recommendations.
USAID Regional Mission for Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova