Setbacks of the Ethics Council

The Ethics Council was formed in November 2021 to reform the High Council of Justice, one of the key governance bodies within the Ukrainian judiciary. The role of the EC was to conduct thorough assessments of then-members of the HCJ and candidates for vacant HCJ positions.

Holding the interviews behind closed doors

The EC decided to close the interviews with sitting members of the HCJ and candidates for vacant HCJ positions, despite the unequivocal requirements of the Law and the Rules of Procedure. The decision did not take into account the public interest and raised concerns about the transparency of judicial reform and confidence in its outcomes. The decision was not evident from a security point of view, given that the interviews were conducted online and the security situation in the country had improved. Moreover, the decision placed the candidates for the HCJ in unequal circumstances, as all interviews conducted prior to February 24, 2022, remain accessible to the public. Despite calls from civil society and the efforts of international partners, they remained adamant.

Lack of motivation for positive decisions

The EC did not provide any explanations for its positive decisions. As a result, the public did not understand why certain candidates of low integrity received recommendations. By compromising public trust in the competition's outcomes through the refusal to broadcast the interviews, the EC members were obliged to dispel doubts and reservations about the candidates by justifying their decisions. However, they failed to do so.

Providing recommendations to candidates of low integrity

The EC provided recommendations to candidates who were considered to be the low integrity ones, for instance, Serhiy Burlakov and Vyacheslav Talko. Serhiy Burlakov visited the Russian Federation and Crimea after its occupation and had connections with Oleksandr Feldman, the former member of a pro-Russian political party. Vyacheslav Talko previously worked as an inspector in the HCJ with those members to whom the head of the DACK Pavlo Vovk gave instructions on the harassment of judges. His expenses are dozens of times higher than his income, and he is obviously connected with the ruling party. It is unknown whether they refuted the doubts about their integrity, since the interviews were closed and the decisions were not motivated. The decisions regarding the sitting HCJ members are also doubtful. Three of them successfully passed the interviews behind closed doors, despite a significant number of facts that called their integrity into question.

Refusal to recommend a whistleblower judge

The EC did not recommend Larysa Holnyk, a judge-whistleblower, to be appointed. In 2015, she refused to decide in favor of Poltava Mayor for a bribe, filed a criminal complaint, documented it, obtained a prison sentence for a mediator, and is still fighting for Mayor's punishment. Judge Golnyk was also physically assaulted. After that, she became the object of persecution by the president of her court and judicial system for years. In 2017, she posted an emotional but truthful assessment of the behavior of judges who submissively supported corrupt behavior within the court she worked in. For this position, she was sanctioned by a decision of the previous HCJ members, whose failures were the reason for the reform and the precondition for the creation of the EC. In 2019, the Supreme Court overturned this decision. However, it appears from the interview that this episode was the reason for the negative decision of the EC. Despite the possible controversial nature of the post, the EC demonstrated a lack of understanding of the Ukrainian context, where judges frequently find themselves defending their independence publicly. This decision sparked outrage among the public and negatively affected the whistleblower's reputation.