On the anniversary of the Maidan, the MPs want to destroy the Public Integrity Council and renewal of the courts

Читати українською.

Tomorrow, on November 21st, on the anniversary of the Maidan, when Ukrainians talk about Dignity and Freedom, the Verkhovna Rada will consider the draft law that destroys the tool for public participation in the selection and assessment of judges.

What is the Public Integrity Council (PIC)?

The PIC is an independent public body that, since 2016, has been helping the High Qualifications Commission of Judges (HQCJ) to assess current judges and select new ones. Comprising 20 members, including public activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers, the PIC plays a crucial role in gathering information about judges. It can formulate opinions on instances of low integrity and forward them to the HQCJ.

One of the primary responsibilities of the PIC is to engage in the qualification assessment process, which involves scrutinising several thousand judges to determine their professionalism and integrity. The ambitious goal is to complete this extensive judicial assessment for two thousand judges in the coming years. Without the insights provided by the PIC's assessment, the HQCJ would essentially be operating without a clear understanding, increasing the likelihood of retaining judges such as Tandyr, Knyazev, and others within the system.

Public control under control — what do the MPs propose?

Draft law No. 10140-д, introduced by the head of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, Denys Maslov, and his colleagues, suggests a comprehensive exclusion of Article 87 from the Law of Ukraine "On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges", which delineates the status and functions of the PIC. Instead, the lawmakers propose to subject the PIC to the authority of the HQCJ, introducing complexities in its operations and curtailing its impact on the evaluation of judges.

Primarily, the legislators advocate granting the HQCJ the power to terminate the mandates of PIC members. This move places the body of public oversight in a vulnerable position, susceptible to easy control by government representatives. If an individual member's stance is deemed unfavourable, they can be easily ousted.

Furthermore, the proposed legislation includes a clause that prohibits the inclusion of value judgments in PIC opinions. Yet, assessing moral and ethical considerations such as integrity inherently involves making value judgments. Additionally, the PIC adheres to the standard of proof of "reasonable doubt by an outside observer" and serves in an advisory capacity rather than indicting judges.

The lawmakers also seek to prevent PIC members from publicly assessing judges. This provision limits the ability of the activists to communicate the results of their work to the public and justify their decisions.

The draft law imposes excessive requirements on the PIC's operations. For instance, it mandates full public disclosure of the PIC's work, requiring advance notice of meetings and providing live broadcasts. However, the PIC lacks a dedicated physical space and comprises activists and journalists residing not only in Kyiv but also in other cities. Another provision demands that the PIC verify the winners of competitions for hundreds of positions in first-instance courts within a 30-day timeframe. It is obvious that within such a brief period, a public body without any state funding cannot thoroughly assess such a volume of candidates.

Additionally, the proposed draft law introduces numerous changes, the purpose of which is not clear. Notably, the authors suggest expanding the PIC to 25 members, with five appointed by the Council of Business Ombudsman. At the same time, the current legislation does not limit business associations from participating in the formation of the body, so why create a separate quota for them?

Not only the PIC. Other proposals that preserve problems in the courts.

The draft law also proposes to complete the competitions for the positions of judges, which were started by the previous HQCJ, according to the old regulation. This pertains to the appointment of candidates to 560 positions, individuals who had previously undergone competency and integrity assessments conducted by the discredited former composition of the HQCJ.

That is exactly the composition that failed to renew the judicial system. By 2019, less than one percent of the nearly three thousand judges they "assessed" was dismissed. They recognised Maidan judge Vladyslav Devyatko as meeting the requirement of integrity. Judge Volodymyr Ponomarenko also successfully passed the assessment, and just a few months later, he was caught for bribery. Also, the old HQCJ "laundered" the reputation of Oleh Glukhanchuk, who drove a car drunk and displayed disrespect towards a police officer. Also, for example, judge Kuksov, who supported Russian aggression in 2022, was deemed to possess high integrity. The concern arises from the prospect of more than five hundred judicial positions being filled by candidates who passed such a questionable "assessment."

Furthermore, the lawmakers propose to give priority to assistant judges over other legal professionals and scholars who lack court experience in competitions for judicial vacancies. This norm is, at the very least, discriminatory and illogical, especially considering the need for fresh personnel from outside the judicial system.

For further details on the detrimental provisions of the project, additional information can be found here.

Context is important. Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU

The focus on judicial reform has once again heightened due to the European Commission's recommendation to initiate accession negotiations with Ukraine, placing it at the forefront of European integration demands. The tasks outlined by the European Union for the upcoming year encompass the qualification assessment and selection of judges, with an emphasis on active involvement from the PIC. The proposed constraints on the PIC by the MPs not only jeopardise public oversight of these critical processes but also pose a significant threat to Ukraine's progress towards EU integration. Therefore, we urge MPs to reject these dangerous proposals and refrain from undermining the hard-won advancements in judicial reform for Ukraine. Upholding the integrity of the reform process is essential for the country's continued journey towards alignment with European standards.