On Dec. 13, the Verkhovna Rada finally adopted a law on the liquidation of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv (DACK), considered by many the most odious court in Ukraine, as it has long been a symbol of judicial corruption. During its 18 years of its existence, the DACK is best remembered for banning protests in times of the Revolution of Dignity, stopping the qualification assessment of judges, blocking the SAPO (Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office) competition, obstructing security reforms, and many other anti-Ukrainian decisions.
Publication of the so-called "Vovk’s tapes" (named after the notorious head of the court Pavlo Vovk in whose office the wiretapping was made) in 2019 and 2020 by NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine) proved the interference of the DACK judges in the work of other state bodies and attempts to seize state power. Moreover, as stated by Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the NSDC (National Security and Defense Council), it was the DACK, according to the plan of its Russian curators, which was supposed to create a legal framework for the return to power in Ukraine of fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, who flew to Minsk in early March 2022, expecting the capture of Kyiv by Russian troops.
The fact of the matter is that the DACK was the court with excessive jurisdiction over nearly every institution that was physically located in Kyiv. Therefore, it considered all cases against all national state bodies. Such powers made it one of the most influential courts in Ukraine and its judges – some of the most corrupt.
President Volodymyr Zelensky submitted a draft law on the liquidation of DACK to the Verkhovna Rada back in the spring of 2021 in response to another corruption scandal around the head of the court, Pavlo Vovk. Still, the draft law gathered dust in the Parliament for about 20 months. However, only three days after the United States sanctioned Vovk and two of his family members, the law was voted in full.
President Zelensky signed the draft law the same day, and it came into force on Dec 15.
On the day the law entered into force, the DACK stopped administering justice. Its cases will be temporarily transferred to the Kyiv District Administrative Court, its twin court, which has jurisdiction over the Kyiv region.
In the meantime, the law says Kyiv City District Administrative Court (the KCDAC) has to be established instead of the DACK. Obviously, it is unnatural for an ordinary district administrative court to consider such a large scope of cases. Therefore, in order to prevent the emergence of a new monster like the DACK, it is necessary to remove national-level cases from the jurisdiction of the newly established KCDAC and transfer them to the High Administrative Court, which has to be established in the future as well. The need to establish such a court was emphasized long ago by the experts. The idea of creating a High Administrative Court was also included in the draft Legal Reform Strategy for 2021-2023, presented by the President's Office.
However, to establish the High Administrative Court, it is crucial to form the operational High Council of Justice (the HCJ) and High Qualification Commission of Judges (the HQCJ), two main judicial governance bodies responsible for judges' selection, disciplining, appointment and dismissal. Already in January, the Congress of Judges will be held, which will form the HCJ, which in turn will be able to form the HQCJ to fill almost 3,000 vacancies in Ukrainian courts.
As soon as the High Qualification Commission of Judges is established, judges of the DACK, who still retain the status of judges, will have to undergo a qualification assessment, which they have been avoiding for seven years by influencing judicial bodies. This is not surprising, given that 42 of 49 judges of the DACK have negative reviews of the Public Integrity Council, and there are severe concerns about the integrity and professional ethics of all 49 judges according to the civil society. Moreover, Pavlo Vovk and his associates have already been convicted of creating a criminal organisation – the relevant case is already being considered by the High Anti-Corruption Court.
The DACK judges will probably challenge the law on the liquidation of the DACK in the Constitutional Court (the CCU), which is already considering a number of important reforms and laws. In particular, the CCU is reviewing the current judicial reform, the law on the High Anti-Corruption Court and will consider even more laws related to elections, reintegration of territories, and accession to the EU and NATO. Therefore, its reform is of fundamental importance. It came as no surprise that the European Commission included the reform of the CCU as one of the seven conditions for Ukraine to maintain its EU candidate status.
Unfortunately, the Verkhovna Rada recently adopted a draft law that can lead to the politicization of the Constitutional Court and, according to experts, endangers the independence of the Court and Ukraine's European integration. At the moment, only the president's veto can save the situation, to which Zelensky was called by public organizations.
The liquidation of the DACK is an unequivocally positive development, but whether history will repeat itself depends primarily on judicial reform, which will ultimately determine whether Ukraine will be a democratic member of the EU or not. After all, there is not a single successful country in the world without the rule of law.
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