Ukraine is at a unique historic moment. Despite the war, we have a huge opportunity to implement global changes within the country.

It is here and right now that the struggle for our future is taking place. Now, and especially after our victory, society’s highest demand will be the demand for justice. Justice cannot exist without the rule of law, and without consistent fundamental changes in the justice system.

Therefore, it is judicial reform that is currently the key reform. Our success as a country and our future position in the world depend on it.

For the first time, all the necessary components for its implementation are in plain sight, i.e. the political will of our president, coordinated steps of parliament, the necessary assistance of our international partners, and the active participation of civil society.

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We have a clear intention to continue persevering on the implementation of justice reform. And this intention has been noticed by our partners. The President of the European Council Charles Michel admitted the fact during the Ukraine-EU summit in February this year; and we intend to ensure that our judicial system is absolutely trusted within and outside the country.

But is not enough to reboot the higher bodies of judicial governance to accomplish this. Judicial reform should have a real strategic goal, specific objectives for implementation, and an understanding of the urgent problems of the justice system capable of prompt resolution so that society will feel the changes.

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Altogether, this three-level road map will allow every citizen to see what we want, where we are going, and what changes are happening in the judicial system.

Level 1 – Strategic

The strategic goal of all changes in the system should be to reset the relationship between society and the judicial branch of power.

The judicial branch of power must fulfill its direct duty to protect society from excessive interference from other branches of power (legislative and executive) and to protect citizens against the violation of their rights and freedoms.

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For its part, an active society must protect the judicial branch of power from outside interference in its activities, the influence of other branches of power, as well as political influence and the pressure from officials.

As a result, the judicial branch of power will be able to fully function, with an established sense of trust between it and society.

Level 2 – Tactical

To achieve our main goal, we need to have clear objectives. Their essence can be reduced to three important words: fair, fast, inevitable.

(1) Fair: When we talk about justice, first and foremost, we mean rebooting the highest bodies of judicial governance – the Supreme Council of Justice and the Supreme Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine. These are the bodies responsible for the selection of judges, their careers, and the prosecution of those judges who have violated the law or the rules of judicial ethics.

We, together with our international partners, have put a lot of effort into their reboot. Important laws were adopted in 2021 that provide for the creation of the Ethics Council for the selection of members of the Supreme Council of Justice; along with the Competition Commission for the selection of members of the Supreme Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine.

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The direct involvement of representatives of international organizations, with which Ukraine cooperates in the field of justice, rule of law and anti-corruption reform, in this process was an unprecedented step. This ensured confidence in the process of updating the Supreme Council of Justice and the Supreme Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine.

After all, since January 2023, the Supreme Council of Justice has had a full-fledged composition. The positive steps taken by Ukraine in restoring the work of this body were welcomed by the ambassadors of the G7 countries. It is very important. The restart of the Supreme Qualification Commission of Judges is in the final stage, and we hope to receive its updated composition within this month.

At the same time, active work is being carried out on the formation of the service of disciplinary inspectors of the Supreme Council of Justice, without which no complaint about a judge's actions can be considered. We cannot wait another six months, while possible violations by some judges go unconsidered by the Supreme Court. Therefore, together with the newly formed composition of the Supreme Council of Justice, legislative steps were worked out. This will allow consideration of disciplinary cases in the nearest future.

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"We demand a real reform of the judicial system". Photo by UNIAN

These are the real steps that have already been taken. They are the basis of judicial reform. They strengthen our justice system and certainly influence our European integration processes. In addition, we will have the opportunity to fill almost 2,000 vacancies in courts of various branches with new, honest and professional judges.

Improving the selection procedure is a long-overdue issue. We are working on that, with a working group understood to have been created in the relevant parliamentary committee. It is about optimizing the number of stages of selection, their sequence, reducing the time for their implementation, and saving tens of millions of state funds. 

A separate important step should be to expand the involvement of civil society in the process of selecting judges. The results of this will overcome the personnel shortage, reduce the burden on judges, and, therefore, speed up the process of consideration of cases that have been "hanging" in the courts for years.

(2) Fast: Speaking about the fact that justice should be fast, I would add that it should be convenient as well. For this, we must not only solve the issue of the necessary material and technical support of the courts and decent salaries for the employees of the apparatuses, but also rapidly move in the direction of electronic justice.

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Despite Ukraine's achievements in the digitization of various processes and services, the issue of electronic justice has not actually moved for a long time. Lack of funds is a key issue. However, today we have a clear understanding that the state cannot spend much money and time on paper correspondence. Everything should happen through electronic means quickly and conveniently.

Our goal is to make the receipt of subpoenas through an electronic office with additional functions of redirecting to a phone/app/email box. In order to get acquainted with the materials of the case, it should be enough to visit an electronic office, stud each sheet of the case as an electronic book, make the necessary notes, and not to go to the court for this and spend hours lining the thresholds of the office. 

The courts should have instant access to all the necessary electronic registers without having to send millions of paper requests and postpone meetings due to non-receipt of information. There should not be floor-to-ceiling archives in courtrooms, and electronic cases should be stored in secure cloud-based digital storage. After all, the very participation in the court session should involve a convenient remote procedure.

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To implement all this, an audit is needed of the existing electronic system. We have managed to agree on this with our international partners so far.

This is an important step that is a prerequisite for the following processes for the development of a full-fledged and convenient electronic justice system in Ukraine. I am very grateful to our partners who agreed to take on the financing issue. For its part, the Legal Policy Committee is one of the main drivers of this process.

(3) Inevitable: Decisions made by the court must be implemented. Without enforcement, judgment does not restore justice. Without enforcement, court decisions lose authority.

Effective steps in this direction will be judicial control over the implementation of decisions and responsibility for their non-implementation. It is also important to strengthen the role of private executors and expand their mandate. We have already had developments in this direction, which are being prepared for consideration in the Parliament hall.

Level 3 – Operational

It was during the war that we felt most acutely the urgency of responding to the many ongoing challenges facing our justice system.

By joint efforts, in constant coordination with the Supreme Court, the Supreme Council of Justice, the State Judicial Administration, and the Office of the President, we have to make quick, sometimes non-standard, but necessary decisions for the country so that the courts will work and people will have access to justice.

To prevent the collapse of the judiciary in some temporarily occupied territories after Feb. 24, 2022, we have foreseen the possibility of changing the jurisdiction of cases in such courts, as well as the secondment of judges by the Chairman of the Supreme Court. This was a necessity due to the conditions of the war and the absence of an authorized composition of the Supreme Council of Justice.

Currently, while the enemy continues to strike at the heart of our critical infrastructure with missiles, we are finalizing the issue of holding court proceedings in the absence of electricity, which will also be a temporary but necessary measure.

Personally, I believe that people should feel the first results of any reforms within six months, otherwise trust in the process, and of those who implement them, begins to wane. Therefore, the first results of our steps to form the Supreme Council of Justice and Supreme Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine should become tangible in a six-month time horizon.

It will take more time to reset the relationship between society and the judiciary. But this result will eventually be achieved.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy took part in the solemn meeting of the Plenum of the Supreme Court and congratulated the judges on the professional holiday - Court Employees' Day. Photo by the Presidential Office

All the steps we are taking now are quick, but measured and consistent, with no room for error. Victory and a dignified future await our country, built on democratic values, respect for every person and the rule of law.

Ukraine is being renewed and no Russian missiles can stop it! 

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

 

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Comments ( 1)

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Bohdan  Poshva
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

I am convinced that President Volodymyr Zelensky does not know that the constitutional judicial body, the Supreme Court of Ukraine/Supreme Court, does not administer justice. Our appeals are read by the head of the President's Office Andriy Yermak and his deputy A. Smirnov. Their positions are not in the Constitution, in the law, they are just employees of the President's Office, but they allow themselves everything - to summon G7 ambassadors to a meeting, which formalizes the deception in the correctness of the reform.

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