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Justice Under Quarantine. Interview with Ukraine’s Judiciary Spokesperson
8 April, 2020
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Ukrainian courts continue to hear cases, including those arising out from quarantine violations (photo - Shevchenkivskyi District Court of Kyiv, April 1, 2020) Viktor Kovalchuk / UNIAN

Ukraine has been living in quarantine for almost a month. In an exclusive interview with hromadske, the head of the Judiciary Press Center of Ukraine, Oksana Lysenko, told us how the justice system continues to operate during an epidemic.

Do courts continue to operate?

Not a single court has ceased to perform its functions. Litigation is ongoing, including those arising out of quarantine violations. Today, for example, a resident of Sumy was fined 17,000 hryvnias ($627) for entering a store without a mask. This man violated the conditions set by the executive committee of the Sumy City Council. We already see that this is a massive category of cases: quarantine rules violations, illegal removal of masks.

How exactly do the courts work?

People who are not party to a court proceeding are restricted from access to the courts. The parties should use safeguards. Communication with the courts has been shifted to electronic format. For the duration of the quarantine period, all non-litigation activities, such as public receptions, conferences, and open days, were canceled.

Moreover, summonses are received both electronically and in writing.  Court rulings continue to be issued in person. The office works remotely, all necessary documents, petitions are filed in the box or electronically. The presence of suspects in court sessions is minimized. However, in criminal cases, exceptions can be made, specifically if the person involved wishes to do so.

How do judges work?

We are currently short 2,000 judges. That is 30% of the staff. Besides, we are still operating with a state budget deficit. And we have sad statistics that courts are not even provided with masks – the level of provision is 9% in some courts. This problem was shoved onto the judges themselves and the court staff.  And it makes judges personally responsible for ensuring safe work conditions during a pandemic.

Is there a plan to broadcast all the proceedings online?

Such a bill was adopted as a foundation.  And now we need to accelerate the implementation of e-justice – we are taking care of that. The first issue is the personal identity verification and the proper exchange of procedural documents. We have 4,000,000 cases per year and have never been tasked with holding all online meetings at once.

READ MORE: Running in the Park and Trips out of Town: What Ukrainians Can and Cannot Do During Quarantine

The High Council of Justice recommended that judges be assigned to the courts, and the majority of employees sent to work remotely, but the court and the institution have already established their own working regime. In addition, all court decisions and recommendations are published on the official webpage of the judiciary. 

 What can the parties to a legal case do?

There are cases that require urgent consideration, personal appearances of the participants in the process, including taking a person into custody and ensuring further pre-trial proceedings. They need consideration in extremely short timeframes.  There is a possibility of postponing the hearing, the possibility of holding meetings in videoconference mode or in written proceedings – without the participation of the party. But not all hearings are done via video conference.

How does the High Council of Justice work in quarantine?

The HCJ's powers over the disciplinary responsibility of judges remain. The chairman of the HCJ noted that in the case of complaints against a judge’s work, the whole spectrum would be evaluated and the conditions of justice in quarantine would be taken into account when assessing the actions of the court.

Have cases of coronavirus infection been confirmed among judges?

Yes, in regards to the coronavirus – we know of one case of a judge getting infected. She was abroad, fell ill, but has since recovered. This was in the Kyiv Economic Court.

For all the latest updates on the coronavirus in Ukraine, follow this link.