EU Concerned With How Ukraine Selects Supreme Court Judges
1 June, 2017
Photo: Volodymyr Gontar, UNIAN

The Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine Hugues Mingarelli calls for the objectivity and impartiality in the final selection of the judges to the Supreme Court of Ukraine. There are two big ongoing processes in Ukraine. First is the appointment of the judges for the new Supreme Court, which is the part of judicial reform in the country, the second – the election of the new Ombudsman.

The last interviews with the candidates for the positions within the new Supreme Court were conducted on May 26. In total, 381 candidates were interviewed. The Public Integrity Council (PIC) provided its conclusions concerning 140 out of the general number of candidates on their non-compliance with the criteria of integrity and professional ethics. However, the final calculations show that 82% of the PIC's opinions (on 115 candidates) were not taken into account by the High Qualification Commission of Judges.

The final decision on these candidates will be taken by the High Qualification Commission of Judges at the plenary session starting from June 6. Despite the numerous public demands to do this openly, the voting most probably will be held behind the closed doors.

Here is what The Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, Hugues Mingarelli said:

“While the selection process for the new Supreme Court is unprecedented in terms of transparency, the High Qualifications Commission must take all remaining steps to eliminate any doubt about the objectivity and impartiality in the final selection of judges. The integrity of future judges must be unquestionable. The appointment of even a few judges with tainted reputations would risk compromising the entire credibility of the process. So the selection should be. The selection is a unique opportunity to relaunch trust in the judiciary and Ukraine cannot afford to miss it. In parallel to this process, it is also essential that a new procedural code, which the new Supreme Court can then apply, is considered and adopted by the Rada as a matter of priority. While this issue is a separate one from the judges' selection, it is important that also the Parliament takes its responsibility to advance in this crucial stage of the judicial reform”.

According to the Ambassador, “It is a step in the right direction that the Commission now has chosen to make the scoring methodology publicly available. Further steps can be undertaken to maximise transparency and public confidence in the final process. Both the overall score and scores for each of the parameters included in the selection methodology should be made public for each selected candidate. Minimum passing grades for sub-categories could be introduced and publicly announced, at the very least for the parameter on integrity, which remains the number one issue for trust in the selection. If candidates who satisfy high integrity and qualification criteria cannot be found during this selection process to fill all of the announced 120 positions as Supreme Court judges, there shouldn't be any pressure to have the whole 120 positions filled at all costs. The Supreme Court can start its operations with less than 120 judges, and it is by far more important to appoint independent and trustworthy judges, even if there will be fewer of them. An additional competition can be called at a later stage and the EU stands ready to support it. This is an issue where we should pay attention to quality first, rather than quantity.”

While Ukraine is also choosing the new Ombudsman of Ukraine as the term of Valeriya Lutkovska, the current Commissioner of human rights, expired in April. Ukrainian MPs proposed three candidates, but they did it without any involvement of civil society activists and lawyers. Thus, they ignored the demands and recommendations, including UN’s, to make the process politically unbiased.

“The election process, which the EU is closely following, should include that the national institution is characterized by as broad a mandate as possible, independent appointment procedures, a pluralistic and representative composition, and independence from the executive branch,” – Mingarelli says. He noted: “Valeriya Lutkovska, who held the position in 2012-2017, made remarkable efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country, including by substantially contributing to progress in conflict-related issues, for instance the transfer of Ukrainian prisoners from the temporarily occupied territories to the territory under the control of the Ukrainian government.”