Representatives from key judicial institutions, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and USAID New Justice Program identified urgent needs of the judiciary arising from COVID‑19 pandemic and potential areas of cooperation at the roundtable, which was organized as a video conference on the initiative of the High Council of Justice (HCJ) and USAID New Justice Program.
The participants discussed specifics of judicial institutions’ operations, measures taken in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic by the High Council of Justice, Supreme Court, High Anti-Corruption Court, Council of Judges of Ukraine, National School of Judges of Ukraine, High Qualifications Commission of Judges of Ukraine, State Judicial Administration of Ukraine, and Judicial Security Service; important aspects of organizing court operations and adjudicating cases by administrative courts under quarantine conditions; use of technical means of video conference communication by courts; problems caused by gaps in the current legislation with regard to governing conduct of court sessions via video conferences and providing remotely full access to materials in judicial dossiers and judicial candidates’ files under quarantine conditions.
The event participants included Andrii Ovsiienko, Chair of the High Council of Justice; Valentyna Danishevska, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Thomas White, Director of the Office of Democracy and Governance at USAID Regional Mission for Ukraine and Belarus; Oleksandr Piskun, Democracy Project Management Specialist, USAID Regional Mission for Ukraine and Belarus; David Vaughn, USAID New Justice Program Chief of Party; Vladyslav Gurtenko, Head of the International Cooperation Office, HCJ Secretariat; Justice Andrii Zhuk, Administrative Cassation Court with the Supreme Court; Mykola Onishchuk, Rector of the National School of Judges of Ukraine; Justice Yehor Krasnov, Acting Chair of the Council of Judges; Bohdan Kryklyvenko, Chief of Staff of the High Anti-Corruption Court; Natalya Kidina, Head of the Legal Department of the Secretariat of the High Qualifications Commission of Judges of Ukraine; Serhiy Chornutsky, Deputy Head of the State Judicial Administration of Ukraine; and Dmytro Shelud’ko, Head of the International Cooperation Department of the Court Security Service.
“In facing the coronavirus pandemic, our joint efforts with the High Council of Justice, Supreme Court, National School of Judges, and other judicial institutions have become even more crucial to ensuring continued court operations and access to justice for all Ukrainians,” pointed out Thomas White, Director of the Office of Democracy and Governance at USAID Regional Mission for Ukraine and Belarus.
In this regard, USAID, through its New Justice Program, is using previous capacity building efforts to assist its justice sector partners in responding to COVID-19 and accompanying restrictive measures to guarantee fair and timely administration of justice.
Chair of the High Council of Justice Andrii Ovsiienko emphasized that Ukraine, like all the other countries, has faced unprecedented new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In view of restrictions imposed because of the quarantine, the judicial system operates in unusual conditions. According to Mr. Ovsiienko, operations of institutions in the justice system, courts, judicial governance and self-governance bodies have acquire certain qualities and specifics; however not a single court or institution has suspended operations.
“The responsibility and task of each state is to counteract threats posed by COVID‑19 and overcome the sanitary crisis; in so doing, this should be done in a manner that ensures respect of major values of democracy, rule of law, and human rights,” stressed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Valentyna Danishevska.
She admitted that it is not easy to balance public safety, public health, and personal interests. This process and content of any measures should conform to the state’s commitments in the sphere of human rights so that extraordinary measures are taken according to the principles of lawfulness, legal certainty and proportionality. Such measures should be revised on a regular basis.
When summarizing results of the discussion, USAID New Justice Program Chief of Party David Vaughan identified three priority areas of further activities to overcome challenges arising from the pandemic: balancing the rights of individuals against the need for public health restrictions in these times; promoting online hearings, videoconferencing and online filings, including legislative changes to allow their extending; and ensuring teleworking and online education for judges and court staff.
David Vaughn mentioned such cross-cutting topics of the discussion as importance of communication both within the judiciary and externally with the public; promoting e-justice tools that allow for filing online and videoconferencing; providing webinars and training programs for judges and court staff in cooperation with the National School of Judges involving international organizations; and providing international and Ukrainian expertise and additional resources. The USAID New Justice Program is committed to continue providing Ukrainian partners with necessary expert and technical assistance to ensure that set tasks are accomplished.
Chair of the High Council of Justice Andrii Ovsiienko, in turn, reconfirmed that the HCJ is willing and ready to cooperate with international partners, specifically, in implementing distance judicial proceedings in Ukraine. “A positive experience of cooperation under New Justice Program evidences that this potential can be used to a wider extent so that we could synchronize our efforts in identifying ways to overcome challenges faced by the Ukrainian judicial system due to the pandemic and quarantine,” added Mr. Ovsiienko.
“It was very interesting to learn opinions of representatives from virtually all institutions in the justice system regard such critical issue as the judicial system operation under conditions of the quarantine and pandemic,” wrapped up the HCJ Chair. “The bottom line is that we are thinking similarly, have a common vision of the problem, and are trying to solve it with joint efforts.”