During a regular rule of law donors and implementers meeting organized by the USAID New Justice Program, its participants discussed issues of judicial ethics and conflict of interest.
Head of the Council of Judges (COJ) Judicial Ethics Committee, Supreme Court Justice Yehor Krasnov spoke about the COJ activities to ensure compliance by judges with high ethical standards. He noted that the number of applications of judges to the Committee has almost doubled since 2016 and in 2019 amounted to 202 applications, and in the first half of 2020 the Committee received 65 applications. They are mostly about the resolution of conflicts of interest, interpretation of the provisions of the Code of Judicial Ethics, especially about the behavior in social networks. More than 80% of applications come from trial court judges, but there are also applications from judges of appellate courts, the Supreme Court and the High Anti-Corruption Court.
With the support of USAID New Justice Program, the COJ has started the process of updating the Code of Judicial Ethics. The Judicial Ethics Committee conducted a series of discussions with judges on problem issues and identified the main areas for improving the Code. The largest number of proposals and comments were received regarding four articles: the violations of ethical conduct rules cannot in themselves be used as a basis for disciplining judges, the possibility for judges to comment on cases in the media, the judge’s awareness of their property interests and property interests of family members and judges’ participation in social networks.
Justice Krasnov also noted that many proposals were received from COJ members, court administrators and NGOs to update the rules of conduct for court staff approved in 2009. The rules have been significantly updated and it is expected that after the appellate court judges review them they will be approved. Additionally, with the support of the Canadian Project “Support to Judicial Reform in Ukraine”, the COJ held consultative regional meetings on conflict of interest.
Next steps of the Committee include the completion of updating the Code of Judicial Ethics and after its approval by the Congress of Judges, updating the Commentary to it. In addition, a project has been launched to develop common ethical standards for professional participants in court proceedings – prosecutors, lawyers and judges, which will contain general principles for their cooperation in the courtroom.
In addition, among the possible areas of cooperation with donors, Yehor Krasnov mentioned the improvement of the COJ website and the creation of an electronic form of application to be submitted to the Committee, which will provide an opportunity to respond more quickly to applications; analyzing/summarizing the applications received by the COJ, as well as the relevant disciplinary practice of the HCJ; creating an “archive” of applications and a manual with the responses to the most common applications which would serve as an institutional memory, for the COJ composition may change after each Congress of Judges of Ukraine. He also believes in the importance of generalizing judicial practice on bringing judges to administrative responsibility for corruption offenses; holding round tables, consultative meetings with judges with the participation of international experts; conducting trainings for the staff and members of the COJ in order to increase the institutional capacity of the COJ staff.