Rule of Law Donors and Implementers Discussed Building the Capacity of Legal Professionals for Practical Application of Rule of Law

On April 7, during an online coordination meeting organized by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), donors and implementers of the international technical aid projects operating in the Rule of Law area learned about the history and results of the implementation of the Rule of Law Certificate Program. The Certificate Program was developed and has been administered by the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University in cooperation with the University of South Carolina (USA) with support from the USAID New Justice Program for the third year in a row.

This is the first and, so far, the only comprehensive certificate program in Ukraine to enhance the understanding and improving the skills of the practical application of the rule of law principles by legal professionals. Its participants are representatives of different legal areas: judges, court staff, attorneys, prosecutors, investigators, lawyers of non-governmental organizations, civil servants, undergraduate and post-graduate students at law schools, etc. Participation in the Certificate Program not only lets them share their experience and get a better understanding of each other’s work but also develops during discussions a common view of the practical application of some components of the rule of law principle in its application for solving a broad range of legal problems.

In this period, 59 legal professionals selected on a competitive basis from among more than 500 applicants from all over Ukraine have successfully passed training and received a joint certificate from Ukrainian and American universities. Currently, the third round of the Certificate Program for another 30 participants is being launched.

At the beginning of implementation of the Certificate Program, I faced the opinion that only judges are knowledgeable about the rule of law principle and possibilities of its application in specific legal cases. Therefore, the aim of this Program was to transform rule of law into a practical tool for different categories of legal professionals,” said one of developers of the Program, Vice-Rector for Academic Issues of the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University Yurii Barabash.

He also mentioned that teaching rule of law in terms of practical application guarantees positive changes in systems of law application and administration of justice since it allows incumbent legal professionals to fill the gaps in their own knowledge of the rule of law and gain insight into legal processes. An important stimulus to continue the Rule of Law Certificate Program is that based on it, national legal professionals develop new skills needed to bring about positive changes in society. On behalf of the Certificate Program faculty, Mr. Barabash expressed gratitude to the partners – USAID New Justice Program and the University of South Carolina – for their trust and possibility to develop the Program.

Deputy Executive Director of the Rule of Law Collaborative at the University of South Carolina (USA) Steven Austermiller talked about the lessons learned from designing and implementing the Rule of Law Certificate Program. He underscored that close cooperation with Ukrainian faculty with allowance for local legal context and cultural differences helped to develop a program that turned out to be efficient and effective.

An important component of its success has become the environment of equality when participants not only listen to lectures but also feel that faculty treat them as colleagues from whom they can also learn a lot. Every year the Certificate Program is updated and improved based on feedback from its graduates. The Certificate Program team introduces changes into training modules and adds topical subjects and examples of legal precedents for discussion. This year, due to the pandemic, the program’s format has also changed – it will be taught online only.

We will definitely miss “live” discussions, but I am sure that everything will go well, and we will all learn something new. I look forward to working with my colleagues from the USAID New Justice Program and Kharkiv again,” pointed out Steven Austermiller.

Certificate Program graduates – Judge of the High Anti-Corruption Court Vira Mykhailenko, and Authorized Officer of the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption Yurii Sverba – also shared their impressions of participating in the Program.

I am grateful that such program exists in Ukraine and for my participation in it because under present conditions of regulation of social relations we all got used to the fact that rule of law exists but only as a theoretical structure. And in this Program faculty put effort into demonstrating to representatives of various legal professions that rule of law is a practical notion that can be applied in different spheres of legal activity,” mentioned Vira Mykhailenko.

After a two-week training, each participant must demonstrate obtained knowledge and skills in their own capstone project to solve a specific practical problem in the field of the rule of law in Ukraine.

My capstone project was related to eliminating artificial obstacles facing some categories of persons, in particular, incapable persons, in accessing free legal aid. Because now such persons have a right to apply to the court on their own, however, they do not have a right to apply for free secondary legal aid. Basically, we are talking about 40 thousand Ukrainian citizens who are deprived of the right to free secondary legal aid because of artificial obstacles which can be eliminated only by adopting a relevant law,” told Yurii Sverba who drafted the law which is currently registered at the Verkhova Rada.

As Yurii Barabash has mentioned, the Certificate Program team recognizes the need to work on ensuring its sustainability; therefore, they are preparing a teaching manual and are interested in cooperation with other educational and legal institutions to further implement the Program to engage a broader audience. At the meeting, Vice-Rector for Research Work of the National School of Judges (NSJ) Natalia Shuklina expressed readiness for cooperation. At present, NSJ is responsible for ongoing training of judges and court staff and employees of the State Security Service, so it can cover the audience of more than 30 thousand employees, which will facilitate broader dissemination of the Program’s outputs.

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