Lots of tainted candidates, and some good ones, have got past the latest stage of selection for places on the High Anti-Corruption Court and Supreme Court, experts reckon.

Judges and lawyers vying for places on the High Anti-Corruption Court and ones chasing 80 extra jobs at the Supreme Court took legal knowledge tests on Nov. 12, and practical examinations on Nov. 14.

The results of the legal knowledge tests were announced on Nov. 13, with many tainted candidates and some candidates with a reputation for independence winning through to the next stage, experts said. The results of the practical exams have yet to be announced.

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As a result of the legal knowledge tests, 48 candidates for 12 appellate jobs and 108 candidates for 27 non-appellate jobs at the High Anti-Corruption Court passed on to the next stage.

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Viktoria Zhovnovatyuk, formerly known as Kytsyuk, ranks first in the ranking for candidates for non-appellate jobs at the anti-corruption court.

Zhovnovatyuk is the former wife of Viktor Kytsyuk, who has been charged with issuing unlawful rulings against EuroMaidan activists. Currently she is the wife of Oleksiy Zhovnovatyuk, an aide to Ruslan Solvar, a lawmaker from President Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc.

She also gained notoriety when she was arrested by police in 2017 after she blocked traffic with her car and lashed out at the officers who stopped her.

Another candidate who passed to the next stage is Tetiana Demchyna, the former wife of Security Service of Ukraine Deputy Chief Pavlo Demchyna. She ranks at the top of the ranking for appellate jobs at the court.

Demchyna has been investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine in an unlawful enrichment case. Demchyna, who denies the accusations, has been accused of having ties to Poroshenko’s top allies Ihor Kononenko and Oleksandr Hranovsky, who admitted being acquainted with Demchyna but denied influencing law enforcement.

At least three candidates for the anti-corruption court who successfully passed the legal knowledge tests – Oleh Kimstachyov, Petro Burda and Yuriy Krutiy – have been vetoed by the Public Integrity Council over violations of ethics and integrity standards. They deny the accusations of wrongdoing.

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Another shortlisted candidate – Andriy Salo, a judge at the Rivne District Administrative Court – was blacklisted by EuroMaidan activists in Rivne Oblast after he cancelled a motion by the regional legislature in favor of an association agreement with the European Union in 2013.

Yevhen Martynov, a judge at Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court, also passed to the next stage. He triggered a controversy by releasing two hired thugs, or “titushki”, charged with killing journalist Vyacheslav Veremy during the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.

But some candidates with a reputation for independence and without a corrupt background also got through to the next stage in the competition for the anti-corruption court. These include judges Roman Bregei, Andriy Maleyev, Natalia Akhtyrska and Viktor Fomin and lawyer Markiyan Halabala, Iryna Shyba, a legal expert at the DEJURE foundation, told the Kyiv Post.

However, whistleblower judge Larysa Golnyk has been banned from taking part in the competition for the anti-corruption court in what she sees as revenge for her whistleblowing activities.

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Public Integrity Council coordinator Vitaly Tytych, who competed for a job at the Supreme Court but did not pass to the next stage, questioned the validity of the legal knowledge tests for the Supreme Court and the anti-corruption court. He said he had requested his test results from the High Qualification Commission of Judges.

First, the test questions could have had several correct answers or none, in which case the commission could have promoted some candidates by telling them which answers it deems right, he said.

Second, the list of questions was the same as during the Supreme Court competition last year, and some candidates could have won through rote learning without actually understanding the answers, Tytych added.

Third, the tests were not adapted to the level of Supreme Court judges and targeted mechanical knowledge of legal technicalities rather than deep knowledge of jurisprudence, he said.

Fourth, as a result of a change in the minimum score necessary for passing to the next stage, many judges who passed the same tests last year and got appointed to the Supreme Court had worse scores than those of candidates who failed the tests during the current competition, Tytych added.

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In the competition for the Supreme Court, many candidates vetoed by the Public Integrity Council were shortlisted.

High Council of Justice members Igor Benedysyuk, Tetiana Malashenkova, Natalia Volokovytska and Mykola Husak are at the top of the ranking in the Supreme Court competition.

They have been accused of having a conflict of interest because the High Council of Justice appoints Supreme Court judges. They have denied the accusations.

According to his official biography, in 1994 Benedysyuk was simultaneously a judge of a Russian court martial and a Ukrainian one. Public Integrity Council members say that Russian citizenship was a necessary precondition of being a Russian judge, and that his appointment as a judge of Ukraine was illegal if he had Russian citizenship or was not a Ukrainian citizen.

The High Council of Justice denies that he is currently a Russian citizen but has refused to say when and whether he terminated his Russian citizenship, or provide any documentary evidence.

Another candidate shortlisted for the Supreme Court is Maksym Titov, the son of High Qualification Commission member Yuriy Titov.

The competitions for the High Anti-Corruption Court and the Supreme Court were launched in August. The High Qualification Commission of Judges on Nov. 6 appointed the six-member Public Council of International Experts (PCIE), a foreign expert panel intended to help in the selection of the High Anti-Corruption Court.

However, the PCIE’s work may be blocked because the commission has refused to change what its opponents see as an arbitrary and subjective assessment methodology, and failed to clarify whether the PCIE will have access to candidates’ personal data and practical examinations. The High Qualification Commission has denied the arbitrariness of its methodology.

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The Anti-Corruption Action Center, the AutoMaidan civil society group, the DEJURE think-tank and Transparency International Ukraine on Nov. 8 called on the High Qualification Commission to ensure the PCIE’s access to candidates’ personal data and practical examination results, introduce an objective assessment methodology, publish voting results for each commission member and state explicit reasons for assigning all scores.

The commission has also said it would not publish the results of candidates’ psychological tests.

However, it’s not clear if psychological tests, which were supposed to account for up to 400 out of 1,000 points during last year’s Supreme Court competition, were taken into account at all.

Moreover, the validity of the tests has been questioned, as they targeted corporate loyalty and high discipline, which would reward politically dependent candidates and penalize independent-minded ones, according to the Public Integrity Council.

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To resolve the problems, Tytych proposed that the PCIE not only veto the worst, but select the best candidates – i.e. carry out positive selection as well.

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