Rada Adopts Judicial Reform: Poroshenko Puts the Court System Deeper Into His Pocket

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



On October 3rd the Verkhovna Rada voted for judicial reform. “Strana” recalls the main points of this document that have shown to be the most controversial. In general, as was written, on the one hand the document expands the influence of the President over the courts, and on the other hand it expands the powers of the courts and judges to the detriment of other participants in the process.

1. The Supreme judges under Poroshenko’s control

Although the judges of the Supreme Court of Ukraine are elected on a competitive basis, under the law the President is the last instance who approves them.

And also at the contest stage the main candidates for judges of the Supreme Court turned out to be pro-presidential functionaries. This is despite the fact that the Public Council of Integrity, with the assistance of the West, rejected dozens of candidates. But even this didn’t prevent them from participating in the competition.

Such a mechanism of appointing the head judges of the country will allow the President to influence the court, i.e. in manual operation.

2. The summons will be published on the Internet

One more norm that radically changes the habitual foundations is the notification of being summoned in court on the Internet. And not to the e-mail address of the defendant, but simply by posting the summons on the website of the court. This will concern persons whose location isn’t known to the authorities.

Whether or not every citizen of Ukraine has to daily check for themselves the websites of the courts isn’t specified.

3. Pay if you want to start legal proceedings

Claimants were obliged to bring something like a “deposit” when submitting a claim to the court – to compensate for the defendant’s legal fees in the event that they win. On the one hand it seems to be fair, yet on another – if you want to start legal proceedings, for example, against a utility monopoly due to a lack of heating, pensioners will simply not be able to pay the costs of the expensive lawyers of the company.

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4. Electronic court

Now not everybody will need to go to court hearings. “The opportunity to take part in court hearings in a videoconference regime is provided to participants of cases, without leaving their house or working space, and for witnesses and experts – in the room of another court,” it is said in the document.

5. No more than 10 questions

Deputies want to limit the ability of participants in hearings – both the prosecution and defence – to set no more than 10 questions in the trial. Other questions are already an “abuse”.

6. Not everyone can come into the courtroom

The court can limit people’s access to the courtroom if in the hall there are no empty seats. Theoretically this will allow to expel all journalists or observers from the courtroom: it is necessary to sit only “their” people on empty seats in advance.

7. Resolutions against business

A norm, absolutely unacceptable for the business community, was published in the law adopted by the Rada. Now the judge will be able to unilaterally issue decrees against companies and legal persons even if they aren’t participants in the process.

The law grants the right to the judge to do everything if suddenly he notices “shortcomings in the activities” of these or those companies when they consider cases where these companies are mentioned.

In practice this gives the authorities one more tool to put pressure on businesses, bypassing difficult bureaucratic procedures.

8. The timespan of investigating cases will be reduced. And end for “Maidan cases”?

An amendment crept in to the law that reduces the timespan of investigating cases to 3 or 6 months.

“This amendment will reduce the timespan of investigations depending on the category of the case, to 3 or 6 months. Thus the number of refusals at the beginning of the investigation concerning non-obvious crimes will considerably increase, after all, law enforcement bodies won’t want to take the responsibility to investigate these crimes so quickly. And all ‘Maidan’s’ cases and cases against former State leaders will be immediately closed, because the timespan of the investigation proposed by the deputy Lozovoy and supported by the committee already happened a long time ago,” it is said in the explanation of the essence of the norm in the “Reanimation Package of Reforms”.

Like any norm that improves the situation of the people, the amendment will have a retroactive effect. It turns out that all high-profile cases as of late fall under the norm, including Yanukovych’s State treason.

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9. Property written down in the wife’s name is safe

Now a claim against the groundlessness of the ownership of assets can’t be presented to the connected persons. What does this mean? If, say, property is confiscated from a corrupt official, everything that is written down in his grandmothers, children, or wife’s name will remain “in the family”.

234 deputies voted for the bill. Some of the necessary votes came from Deputies from the “Opposition Bloc”, stated the lawyer Andrey Portnov, the former employee of the Administration of the President of Viktor Yanukovych.

Members of the group of the former governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region Aleksandr Vilkul came to an agreement with Poroshenko. He was threatened with arrest for the organization of persons who beat up the nationalists who tried to disrupt the May 9th celebrations in Dnepropetrovsk.

“Today the President pushed through parliament the judicial law and established definitive control over the judicial system. Personal gratitude for strengthening the corruption of the authorities – which wallowed in blood – is deserved by the Dnepropetrovsk group of the Opposition Bloc, which exchanged its votes for guarantees of not bringing them to criminal responsibility for the events on May 9th in Dnepropetrovsk. Now, when your property will be taken away or you will be jailed, we will be surely near you in our mind. Near those who are on another side,” wrote Portnov on his Facebook page.

It is interesting that as a sign of protest against the vote by members of the same party to please Poroshenko, the Kharkov Deputy Mikhail Dobkin declared his exit from the “Opposition Bloc”.

“Taken all together, the so-called ‘dictatorial’ laws of January 16th can’t be compared in any way to the shame that is the judicial ‘reform’ adopted today. And another thing. As of this day I am non-party,” stated Dobkin.

The adopted bill defines the Supreme Court as the only cassation instance and liquidates the High courts.

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The bill closes-off judicial authority for the President, who must now approve the candidacy of each applicant for the position of a judge of the Supreme Court.

The possibility of automatic arrest of means of debtors on utility payments became one of the most criticized provisions. In addition, the adoption of the bill means that citizens of Ukraine won’t have any bank secrecies from courts, which can lead to them not being able to freely dispose of their means. If the debt doesn’t exceed 100 living wages for able-bodied persons, the court issues an order for the collection of this sum in an electronic format, without a direct meeting.

Article 247 of the bill stipulates that “the court, having found, during making a decision concerning the dispute, a violation of the law or shortcomings in the activity of a legal entity, governmental or other bodies, or other persons, declares a private resolution irrespective of whether they are participants of the trial”.

Thus, what such “shortcomings in activity” are isn’t explained in any way, which gives the chance to freeze the work of commercial enterprises by resolutions of the court.

The court can forbid photo, film, TV, or video capturing in the hall of the hearing and broadcasting it on the Internet if it is decided that it impeaches the process of the hearing. This calls into question the transparency of the judicial process.

It is also provided that as an expert in matters of law, a person having an academic degree and being recognized as an expert in the field of law can be involved in judicial proceedings. What a “recognized expert in the field of law” is isn’t defined, which can become the reason for the involvement of doubtful experts.

The sessional hall during consideration of the judicial reform was almost empty. Deputies voted for their colleagues who were absent in the hall. In the future this will help to prove the illegality of decision-making and the usurpation of power by Poroshenko.

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