The USAID New Justice Team Gave Presentations at the International Roundtable on Judicial Reforms in Transitional Democracies

The USAID New Justice Program representatives – Natalia Petrova, Deputy Chief of Party, Legal Advisers Anna Sukhova, Olga Nikolaieva, and Sviatoslav Tkachuk – were invited to give presentations on the Ukrainian experience at February 24-25 online roundtable discussion on Judicial Reforms in Transition Democracies.

The event was organized by the Group of Independent Lawyers (GIL) of Georgia with the support of the USAID Project “Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia” (PROLoG) implemented by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI).

Apart from representatives of the USAID New Justice Program, Halyna Chyzhyk, an expert with the Anti-Corruption Action Center, shared her experience.

The event brought together legal professionals and experts from 14 countries together with Ukraine – Georgia, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Serbia, Albania, Spain, Italy, France, and the United States.

The purpose of the event was to share countries with transition democracies in developing recommendations for effective judicial reform. To this end, the participants analyzed different judicial institutions’ models and the effectiveness of judicial reform in countries struggling with judicial corporatism, informal influence on judges, corruption, and inadequate disciplinary proceedings against judges.

During the round table, participants discussed the following issues:

  • the functioning of judicial councils, judicial governance, avoiding power concentration within the judiciary;
  • judicial discipline;
  • methods of verifying the integrity of judicial candidates, the openness of interviews with judicial candidates, political influence on the process of appointing judges;
  • the challenges that exist in the country regarding the independence of judges and the promotion of a culture of judicial independence;
  • tools to ensure the independence of judges and the judiciary;
  • the level of public confidence in the judiciary, the role of the media, and the actions that judges can take to promote the judiciary’s independence and reliability.

Anna Sukhova, USAID’s New Justice Program Legal Adviser, shared with the audience the state of affairs with disciplinary proceedings against judges in Ukraine – what procedures are required by law, what are the gaps in this area, and what steps are taken today to improve the situation. In particular, Anna highlighted in her presentation the initiatives that the USAID New Justice Program is implementing to improve the judicial discipline system in Ukraine. The work is underway to develop amendments to laws and regulations and advocacy for their approval. The program also helped with an electronic form of disciplinary complaint placed on the High Council of Justice website.

The public‘s participation in monitoring judges and their integrity was presented by Natalia Petrova, Deputy COP of the USAID New Justice Program. She spoke in her presentation about the importance of ensuring the independence of judges and the success of the 2016 constitutional reform in Ukraine, the legislation governing the accountability of judges, the powers of the High Qualifications Commission of Judges (HCJC), the establishment and challenges of the High Anti-Corruption Court, the work of the Public Integrity Council and Public Council of International Experts. Ms. Petrova reminded the audience that judges should fill out income tax returns and the forms disclosing family ties and integrity issues, which are then posted on the HQC website for the general public to see. Nevertheless, the real public control over judges’ integrity became possible only after thorough anti-corruption measures were introduced into Ukrainian legislation.

In the process of renewing the composition of the Supreme Court – the Public Integrity Council – on the grounds of dishonesty and improper professional conduct suspended 51 candidates in the competition, – said Ms. Petrova. – During the formation of the High Anti-Corruption Court, 446 candidates for 38 positions applied – 27 positions in the first instance and 11 positions in the Appeals Chamber. But after the Public Council of International Experts applied pre-defined integrity criteria to these candidates, only 71 candidates took part in the competition.»

Sviatoslav Tkachuk, USAID’s New Justice Program Legal Adviser, talked to the audience about judicial reform and judges’ selection in Ukraine. Having explained to the audience the structure of the judiciary and judicial governance in Ukraine, Mr. Tkachuk described the challenges that currently exist in our country, such as the functioning of duplicating entities responsible for the selection and qualification evaluation of judges; complex and non-transparent processes of selection and qualification evaluation of judges and judicial candidates; lack of a strategic approach in the process of adopting laws related to the judiciary.

USAID New Justice Program helps address these issues, according to Sviatoslav. In particular, support was provided to the High Qualifications Commission of Judges of Ukraine in the selection of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Anti-Corruption Court; recommendations for improving Laws of Ukraine “On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges” and “On the High Council of Justice” were developed; support was provided to the Public Integrity Council and the Public Council of International Experts in assessing the professional ethics and integrity of judges and judicial candidates.

Olga Nikolaieva, USAID’s New Justice Program Legal Adviser, shared Ukrainian experience regarding challenges for judges’ independence. Ms. Nikolaieva highlighted in the presentation the need to improve the system of registering and responding to reports about interference in justice administration. In particular, she spoke about conducted at the initiative of the Program the statistical and contextual analysis of open data of the HCJ Register with the placement of reports from judges about interference in their activities for the period 2016 – the first quarter of 2020; development of recommendations for improving the system of responding to reports of interference and development of a draft template for such a report. The main findings of this study are the need to increase the legal certainty of the concept of “interference in the activities of judges” and to provide organizational and methodological support to judges to respond independently to actions that, although not defined as “interference in the activities of judges,” are obstructing the administration of justice.

Overall, the round table was intense and showed the need for a more detailed exchange of experiences among participants. Such events are crucially important because they allow representatives from different countries to compare successes, discuss existing legislative or procedural gaps, and share ways to meet the challenges they face in their countries.