EU project expert on judicial reform in Ukraine

Judicial reform continues in Ukraine. International expert Anna Adamska-Gallant of the EU project “Pravo-Justice” tells to what extent the judiciary has been reformed after the reboot, how to combat corruption in Ukrainian courts and make them comfortable for visitors and judges.

The changes made in the Ukrainian judicial system are the most comprehensive comparing to other European countries. But for the time being, not all citizens were able to notice and appreciate them, Anna Adamska-Gallant, an international expert of the EU’s Pravo-Justice project said. As part of this project, the EU has for two years been supporting the process of approximating Ukraine’s judicial system to Western standards. Anna is working on reforming courts. The expert hails from Poland, where she worked as a judge for 13 years; before coming to Ukraine, Anna had a 6-year stint as an international judge in Kosovo. We talked to the servant of Themis about how to fight corruption in Ukrainian courts and why it is important to have an independent judicial branch of power. And also, we touched upon some practical matters, such as having a separate entrance to the courtroom for victims of crime.

How high do European experts evaluate reform of the Ukrainian judicial system?

Ukraine has rebooted its judicial system on a truly unique scale. While, say, back in the 1990s in Poland we replaced Supreme Court judges only, all servants of Themis in your country were compelled to undergo a full qualifying certification. In addition, new principles of selecting judges were introduced, containing several evaluation stages including a psychological test, which became obligatory. Judges are now evaluated by not only their colleagues but also representatives of the Public Integrity Council, Higher Qualification Commission and international experts.

Ukraine has rebooted its judicial system on a truly unique scale.

Yet the perception by the society of reforms in the judicial system can hardly be called positive. As before, judges are blamed for being corrupt and for having ties with politicians and oligarchs. To be fair, the society is positive only about the establishment of the Higher Anticorruption Court.

Is it possible to overcome corruption in Ukrainian courts and win an unambiguously positive opinion of the society?

Declaration of income, which has been recently introduced in Ukraine, is one of the efficient instruments of combating corruption in courts. Income declarations filed by judges must be thoroughly checked by both the Anticorruption Bureau and the tax service. Internal audits by judicial administrative bodies must also be in place. But to reduce corruption, educational campaigns among the broad public are also a must: people need to realize that corruption undermines the foundation of the state. To get rid of bribery, mentality must change.

On the other hand, the information people receive is mostly fed to them by mass media, and it contains a lot of negative reports about judges and courts. Therefore, it creates an impression that the level of corruption remains the same despite reforms in the judicial system. In the meantime, the latest surveys held in Ukraine show that the degree of trust in judges has substantially increased over the period of reform, reaching 40%. But that applies only to those who had to deal with courts themselves, while among the citizens who did not have to go to court, only about 10% have trust in the servants of Themis. Some of them would indeed agree that this reform moves in the right direction, but not everyone felt its results yet.

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How profound was the revamping of the judicial branch of power after reform? For the society believes that old judges continue to dispense justice the old way.

An interesting fact: as soon as the obligatory evaluation of judges for their qualification and integrity went underway, almost a third of Ukrainian judges quit. It means that over two thousand judge seats are now vacant, and they must be taken by new judges. This process still continues, and its completion is out of sight for now. Ukrainian courts undergo a change of generations. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that such a large number of vacant positions adversely affects the access to justice in general: today, judges are often overburdened with workload, and small courts simply have no-one to work there.

With the help from European experts, psychological testing was used for the first time when selecting new judges. What does it give, and why is it needed?

This testing is basically intended to sift out those who should not be a judge, for example, irresolute people. A judge must be able to make decisions without being afraid of doing it and undertaking responsibility. It is paradoxical but true: sometimes, people who seem to be excellent jurists cannot resolve a dispute. I had a colleague of mine like that in Poland. Over the year of working as a judge, he was unable to resolve a single case, while other judges handed down several hundred rulings a year. That colleague of mine simply could not enter a judgment. Today, he is a brilliant legal counsel. That’s what this testing is for: to sift out the candidates like that.

Presently, the EUs Pravo-Justice project is implementing the Model Court initiative and you take part in it. This project helps improve working conditions in courts. But the majority of Ukrainians believe that judges already have everything they need and we should not bother with renovating their workplaces. So, why is the EU implementing this project?

Improving the court seems to be the last thing we should do. However, that’s exactly what changes the perception of people and what bears upon how people perceive the court and whether they respect court judgments.

It’s not true that judges have everything they need. They often do not have the most necessary things to dispense justice. What do court buildings look like today? Many of them do not even have decent courtrooms, so judges have to hold sessions in their offices. Often, there are no conditions to ensure publicity of court hearings: the jurors and the press often have no seats, because courtrooms are too small.

A judge must be able to make decisions without being afraid of doing it and undertaking responsibility.

And what does the courtroom look like? The cage appears to be the largest thing in there. Often, the judge’s seat is a tiny chair hidden in a corner. There are no proper areas for victims and attorneys. If a court is functional, we have to remember that it dispenses justice in the name of Ukraine.

So, we are helping with implementing a “customer-oriented” approach in courts in accordance with European standards, to make respect of visitors and of judges themselves felt in there. It means creating proper working conditions for servants of Themis and polite attitude toward the needs of all people who have to go to court.

There are many things that need to be improved in Ukrainian courts. Some of them are easy to do, for example, providing information at least about where the case is being heard. In most European countries, these notices are posted right next to the courtrooms where the hearings take place. In Ukraine, the list of cases, printed on А4 sheets in the six-point font size, is usually posted on a board near the entrance to the court building. As a result, people must only intuitively guess where the particular hearing is being held.

Court buildings must have ramps providing access for people with special needs. A separate entrance and separate facilities must be in there for victims of serious crimes to protect them against contact with the suspected perpetrator, which could result in the repeated victimization. In general, special work must be conducted with “vulnerable” categories like this: there must be psychologists to prepare them for judicial proceedings, and the contact and conversations between the offender and the victim and any threats must be prevented at all costs, for that may traumatize the victim. We are helping with gradually implementing these solutions, at least in some courts for the moment, not in all of them.

You worked as an international judge in Kosovo. Is there something from this experience that could be used for possible reintegration of the Donbas?

The situation in the Donbas is not like the one that was in Kosovo. This region is unambiguously recognized as a part of Ukraine, and therefore, crimes committed during the armed conflict there must be tried in Ukrainian rather than international courts. I think that it would’ve been a good idea to start preparing judges and prosecutors for the trial of these criminal cases even today. As for the amnesty, it was used in Kosovo and it could perhaps be also advisable in this case. But scope of this amnesty is a political question.

A special project by NV jointly with the EUs Pravo-Justice project and Internews Ukraine.

Source: Novoe Vremya.Business