Anna Ogrenchuk, Managing partner, LCF Law Group
Judicial reform in Ukraine Implementing comprehensive judicial reforms is one of the major present-day challenges for the Ukrainian government. A lack of public confidence in the judiciary requires it to be restructured to ensure that it becomes a body trusted and respected by society. The principal aim of judicial reform should be ensuring everyone’s access to justice and a fair trial held in an independent and unbiased court. The judiciary should become reliable and impartial, based on principles of legal certainty and the rule of law. In our opinion, the following objectives are central to the reform of the judicial system and building of social trust in this area:
Improvement of the process of appointing judges and increasing accountability
A lack of public confidence in the judiciary begins with the procedure of appointing judges to the bench. Thus, public trust in judges may be significantly improved through implementation of a fair and transparent system for their nomination and appointment. Transparency can be achieved by creating online public profiles of all applicants and sharing information online about the entire competition process. The selection of the candidates to become judges, in its turn, should be based on a clear and comprehensible rating system. Taking into account lack of public trust in the judiciary, competition procedure should involve, not just judges, but prominent human rights activists, representatives of the civil society, representatives of academic circles etc. Making judges accountable should entail: (i) clear and precise criteria for misdeeds conducted by a judge; (ii) fair and transparent online procedure for making judges accountable for such misdeeds. A body responsible for making judges accountable should include prominent individuals (both with legal and nonlegal backgrounds) trusted and respected by society. Fair competition combined with transparency of the above procedures, in our view, would significantly improve society’s trust in the judiciary and facilitate justice.
Independence of court system
The Ukrainian judiciary should become a truly independent branch of state power. This means that all state officials should abstain from any interference with the activities of the courts. Judges should also refrain from any possible adjustments when the people in power change.
Sufficient financing of judiciary
Justice is an important state and social function, which also has its cost. The independence of the judicial system is closely connected to its financial independence. A poorly financed judiciary will inevitably depend on those responsible for financial support and the distribution of funds. It is important to realize that the judge is the central figure in the process of the application of law and the legal system as a whole. In some aspects the judicial officer, of all public officials, exerts the ultimate power in the community. Taking this into account, it would be reasonable to hire the best representatives of legal profession for these positions. In this regard poor financing of judiciary would mean its inability to compete for the most prominent legal minds. Currently the so-called re-attestation of judiciary and establishment of qualification classes for judges is widely discussed. Some experts also propose the introduction of a new disciplinary penalty for judges — transferring them to a lower courts. In our view, the introduction of such disciplinary penalties would hardly contribute to the quality of justice. Except for general issues discussed above, amendments to the procedural law are also subject to further public discussion. Certain procedures should become more clearly defined and comprehensible. Most lawyers would agree that ambiguity of the law, making many interpretations possible, reduces its value. We also support requiring that interests in courts only be represented by professional lawyers admitted to the bar. Such developments would greatly facilitate judicial proceedings and lift the level of professionalism in the carrying out of justice. At the same time, admission to the bar should become more challenging and competitive. All of us understand that the new Ukraine needs a new judicial system. We must build a fair justice system respected by society. And I believe that by working together we can!