Oksana Syroyid: Prosecutorial corruption even worse under Lutsenko
Oksana Syroyid, a lawyer who is now a deputy speaker of Ukraine's parliament and one of 26 members of the opposition Samopomich Party, takes the long view about judicial reform in Ukraine.
The new 120-judge Supreme Court, set to be seated by October, "is not a success, but it is not a failure also," Syroyid told the Kyiv Post in an interview on Sept. 11. Instead, she said, "it’s a development" in Ukraine's long journey from shedding its Soviet legacy and dislodging the "oligarchic kleptocracy" that rules the nation today.
"What we have now is predetermined by a number of factors," she said.
If 25 percent of the judges form a new, competent and moral center on the new high court, despite being disbursed among different specialized courts, the nation can move ahead haltingly, she said.
She expects, however, that only a handful of judges at most will emerge on the new Supreme Court to win public respect for their rulings. Even that represents progress, she said, since she cannot name a single judge of the caliber of America's William O. Douglas or Earl Warren, two of America's most famous Supreme Court judges.
If we have at least one, two, three, four (good judges), we can do something," she said.
An independent Ukrainian judiciary has never been established, Syroyid said. "We inherited Soviet judges and called them Ukrainian judges and that’s it." In Ukraine, she said, the judges got "privatized" by "the majority owners of the system" — powerful politicians, oligarchs and even Russians. Judges have been serving those interests ever since, she said.
The urgency for judicial reform came after the Euromaidan Revolution that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power on Feb. 22, 2014. At that time, members of parliament realized that none of the 8,000 judges on the nation's bench deserved lifetime appointments.
"You cannot expect that the system that has been corrupted for 25 years can be cleaned in a moment, at least for such a country," Syroyid said. "The biggest success of the process so far is the work of the Public Council of Integrity."
The council is made up of civic activists that helped vet candidates for the new Supreme Court and, while having only advisory powers, was able to call attention to dishonest judges with bad reputations.
The new judges simply can't think differently, she said, because of the poor legal education in Ukraine. While Syroyid, 41, was also educated in Ukraine, she obtained a master's of law degree in Canada as well.
"In Ukraine we have up to 100 law schools and the quality of education in those law schools, or the majority of them, is very poor," Syroyid said. "In all of them, except maybe for individual courses that were changed, the students are trained according to the Soviet doctrine of law. The Soviet legal doctrine was based on the domination of state and the humiliation of a person. But liberal doctrine, and our Constitution by the way as well, is built on the priority of the person, the dignity of the person, the person as the cornerstone of the country. All the state bodies shall be subordinated to the rule of law to protect human rights."
In practice, however, "it's still not enshrined into the legal education, so how can you expect the judge or the prosecutor or a lawyer in the courtroom to stand for the human rights of a person if he or she was trained or trained that the state is the priority?"
Of the more than 1,000 judges she trained, she said, she can recommend only a handful of them. To make matters worse, the Interior Ministry — with law enforcement functions and made up of 150,000 employees — operates many law schools. They should all be run by the Education Ministry, she said.
Poroshenko blocks anti-corruption court
The courts are still run for the benefit of "those six or seven oligarchs running the country," including Poroshenko, and they will not allow the formation of an independent anti-corruption court, according to Syroyid.
"None of them is interested in there being an anti-corruption court. They are interested in the current Ukrainian courts, where they can intervene and finally get the verdict that they are not guilty. The major person who is not interested here is the president himself. He is not even hiding this."
Syroyid has recommended that an independent commission that includes qualified representatives of Ukraine's international
partners help choose an independent anti-corruption court. "This is not accepted by the president because he cannot control it," she said. And the majority of her colleagues in parliament "are dependent on the oligarchs," Syroyid said. "A lot of those people gain their money and property because of corruption."
Lutsenko 'even worse' Syroyid has noticed no lessening of corruption among the nation's 15,000 prosecutors since Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, Poroshenko's appointee, took over in 2015.
"This is the business. The prosecution considers the opening of a criminal procedure as launching a business. It's like a start-up: You open a criminal proceeding, and collect money to close the proceeding. Then you do it again."
If anything "it's even worse" under Lutsenko. "I don't know who had any illusions."
Lutsenko, she says, "is trying to make his publicity by prosecuting MPS," but it's not likely to work, because the Verkhovna Rada is a "sinners club" that has compromising material on each other.
Lutsenko did not respond to requests for comment.
Avakov 'dangerous' Moving to the police, Syroyid said Interior Minister Arsen Avakov "doesn’t care about any reforms. He cares about improving his political influence; he is gaining this power. He is one of the biggest players in Ukrainian politics. It's not because he's so uniquely smart or talented."
Avakov derives his power as the boss of 150,000 employees, including the National Guard, police, state bodyguard service and state emergency services. Moreover, he is aligned with the 81-member People's Front, the secondlargest faction in parliament.
At least Hr 50 billion — $2 billion of the nation's $40 billion budget — goes to law enforcement.
Avakov is not accountable, Syroyid said, and has established the National Guard as "an alternative army already. It's even better equipped and better paid than the army. It's a point of jealousy for the armed forces. Now he is calling for an increase in its policing functions. So it will be double policing — we have the police and we’ll have the alternative police."
Giving the National Guard law enforcement and military duties "is very dangerous," Syroyid said, threatening to turn Ukraine into a police state. "If you have two alternative armies, there is a big risk they could start fighting with each other."
Already, she said, Avakov has used guard members wearing no insignia to break up citizen blockades disrupting trade between Ukraine and Russian-occupied areas. Additionally, she said, peaceful protesters in Poltava earlier this year were "severely beaten" by what she suspects were National Guard officers not wearing identifying insignias.
'I don't talk to them' Syroyid said that she rarely speaks with Avakov or Poroshenko and she doesn't think they're interested in speaking with her either. "It's mutual," she said.
She last tried to talk to Avakov about transferring law school education from the Interior Ministryto the Education Ministry. Avakov told her that he agreed, but ended up supporting a budget that continues to spend 60 percent of legal education money on Interior Ministry schools. "What is the reason to talk?" she asked. "In public, they say all the good words. When it comes to decisions, they do everything in their private interests."
Avakov did not respond to requests for comment.
No interest in solving crime Unfortunately, Syroyid said, the state of police investigative agencies is that they don't want to solve big crimes or lack the skills to do so. "Incompetence is a derivative of the first," she said. "This is the intent."
The sooner that prosecutors lose their Soviet-era powers to command the entire judicial system, including police and judges, the better, Syroyid said. "This should be the only function: Make the case and bring it to the court. The crime is investigated by the police, prosecutors make the case and bring it to court and stand for the public interest of society. The judge is the arbiter. On the other side is the defense attorney."
If crimes keep going unsolved, she said, people will seek revenge by taking the law into their own hands. Yet, despite the fact that prosecutors should no longer have over-arching powers, they still do. One reason is Lutsenko.
"The current prosecutor general is not a leader that can change the system, definitely," she said. "It's all interconnected. If we have a good judge but a bad prosecutor, the case fails. If we have a good prosecutor but a bad judge, the case fails."
Oksana Syroyid, deputy parliamentary speaker discusses with lawmakers during parliament session on April 6 in Kyiv. (UNIAN)
Oksana Syroyid, deputy parliamentary speaker (R) and speaker of parliament Andriy Parubiy look as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko congratulates Yuriy Lutsenko after winning the vote in the Ukrainian Parliament in Kyiv on May 12, 2016. (UNIAN)