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The Verkhovna Rada has approved amendments to judicial career processes, simplifying and expediting selection, although concerns exist about the qualification assessment

Читати українською.

Today, on December 9, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law amending the procedures for selection, qualification assessment and other aspects of judicial careers (draft law No. 10140-д). It is now awaiting the President's signature and will enter into force. The changes present both positive and ambiguously interpretable provisions that legislators must address in subsequent amendments.

Overall, the law streamlines the selection process for courts of first instance, eliminating redundant stages and re-evaluations, reducing training time, and ensuring only future judges undergo it, optimising the filling of vacant positions and saving state resources.

However, a number of dangerous provisions in the law remained despite the recommendations of international partners. They will obviously have to be corrected in the next legislative initiatives. For example, those that will provide for the vetting of judges of the Supreme Court.

  • First, the law exempted over 200 appellate judges, particularly from Kyiv appeal courts, who underwent the "initial qualification assessment" in 2015, from the qualification assessment involving the Public Integrity Council (PIC). Proposals to address this, made on the advice of international partners, were rejected by the Parliamentary Legal Committee.
  • Secondly, the criteria of integrity must now be approved by the High Council of Justice in consultation with the High Qualification Commission of Judges (HQCJ), the Public Integrity Council (PIC), and the Council of Judges. This raises concerns about potential manipulation by judicial bodies and overly restrictive definitions of low integrity. Moreover, the provision appears illogical given the prior agreement between HQCJ and PIC on a joint list of criteria.
  • Thirdly, changes in the wording regarding the number of HQCJ members needed to overturn the PIC's negative opinion introduce legal ambiguity. Previously requiring 11 votes, the law now mentions two-thirds of appointed HQCJ members. This wording is legally ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways. In case the HCJ appointed all 16 members of the HQCJ, but several of them terminated their powers, it is unclear how to count two-thirds. This vague wording may lead to differing interpretations and potentially challenging decisions made in such circumstances.
  • Fourthly, the PIC can now request a postponement of a judge's interview only once. If the HQCJ reschedules an interview on short notice, the PIC may not have sufficient time to analyse the judge, allowing qualification assessment to proceed without PIC's involvement.
  • Regrettably, the law overlooks Western partners' recommendations for establishing "reasonable doubt" as a standard for qualification assessment.

Among the improvements of the law, it is worth noting the following:

  • Increasing the importance of the interview, and therefore integrity, in the selection procedure.
  • Mandatory publication of roll-call voting results by HQCJ.
  • Clear definitions of refusal and non-appearance for qualification assessment, allowing HQCJ to proceed without the judge if absent.
  • Prohibition of the transfer of judges from liquidated or reorganised courts without completing qualification assessment, preventing the DACK judges from simply transferring to another court.

Most of the dangerous provisions on the PIC have been removed from the document. The Public Integrity Council's activities will still be governed by Art. 87 of the Law "On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges". Furthermore, the PIC now has the right to full access to judicial dossiers, but the wording introduced into the law can be used to severely restrict access to information for the PIC members.