The Impeachment Bill: President Zelenskyy Delivers on One of His Pre-Election Promises
3 June, 2019
On May 29, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy submitted a bill to parliament that outlines the procedure to remove the president from office. EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy submitted a bill to parliament that outlines the procedure to remove the president from office, also known as the impeachment procedure. 

“Thus, the President has fulfilled his election promise,” said Ruslan Stefanchuk, a representative of the Head of State in Parliament, at a briefing.

Although for 23 years an article in the Ukrainian Constitution defined certain requirements for impeachment, there was no formal procedure at the legislative level, making such a bill a necessity. Now there is an opportunity to change this.

Hromadske has reviewed the text of the draft law and below outlines the impeachment procedure in the event of the president “committing high treason or another crime.”

Former Impeachment Procedure

Impeachment is the process of removing the president from his position by the Parliament, says Article 111 of the Basic Law. But only in the case of high treason or other crimes. And then – parliament begins the vetting process.

In order to initiate the process, the parliament needs to gather at least 226 votes in favor of investigating the actions of the president. After this, a special temporary investigative committee is created. The conclusions and proposals of the committee are then heard by the parliament at large. If there are enough grounds for impeachment, the parliament shall decide on the fate of the president. In order for the impeachment process to continue there needs to be 300 votes advocating for impeachment.

Next, the Constitutional Court must confirm that the procedure was legal. Following that, the Supreme Court must agree that the head of state actually committed treason or other crimes, 75% must be in favor of the decision to remove the president from office. In the end, in order to green-light the removal of the president from office, at least 338 MPs must vote for impeachment.

However, the constitution did not specify how the investigating committee should be formed, what competencies are required to be a part of it, or the extent of power of the committee. These issues are addressed in the new draft law.

Initiation of Impeachment

To initiate the impeachment process, a written document by a majority of the lawmakers should be submitted. In this document, members should explain why it is necessary to create a special temporary investigative committee. Supporting evidence and relevant materials should be attached. After the initial discussion in parliament, at least 226 members should support the decision to begin the impeachment procedure.

Who Will Investigate the Crimes of the President?

The special temporary investigative committee, which checks the validity of the evidence against the president and conducts its own investigation, includes members of parliament, lawmakers, a special prosecutor and special investigators. Members of Parliament and lawmakers from all sectors should be represented proportionally: the larger the sector, the more representatives.

A person who has been residing in Ukraine for ten years with a law degree, 10 years of experience as a prosecutor or investigator, fluent in the state language and without a criminal record can become a special prosecutor or a special investigator. The special prosecutor’s candidacy is submitted by the proponents of impeachment, and the investigators by the members of parliament and lawmakers. The composition of the group must be approved in the parliament by a majority vote.

The bill does not say how many members of parliament or investigators should be in the committee. It is only known that there will only be one prosecutor. This is an important matter as the meeting of the committee is considered plenipotentiary when more than half of the members participate in it. Moreover, decisions are made by a majority not of the existing group, but of the total number in the committee. Therefore, a larger committee composition will probably make its work less effective.

The Investigation

The task of the committee is to check the availability, completeness and validity of evidence against the president, as well as to investigate the circumstances of the crime in question. In order to deal with this, the committee has the right to hear the claims of president or his lawyer, to demand from state bodies, local authorities, legal entities and individuals to disclose the necessary documents and other information and to call for a hearing from the citizens of Ukraine.  The head and the judges of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine are entitled to participate in the meetings of the committee. They must later give an opinion on the observance of the constitutional procedure during the investigation and consideration of the case.

According to the results of the work, the committee prepares conclusions and proposals for consideration in parliament. If, as a result of the investigation, it turns out that there is every reason for impeachment, the committee prepares an opinion on the charges.

Work for Parliament

The conclusions and proposals of the special temporary investigation committee are considered at an open meeting of the parliament. A private meeting is possible only if there is information that can be considered a state secret.

The president and the proposers of impeachment have the same allocated time to convey their position and reasoning. After this, the parliament can either additionally call witnesses and experts, or proceed directly to the consideration of draft resolutions on the prosecution of the president.

If the Head of State is still considered guilty, there will be a secret vote. Members of Parliament vote for each point of accusation and in the final verdict only the violations that had 300 or more votes will be sustained.

Then the parliament appeals to the Constitutional and Supreme Courts to check the case for compliance with the constitution, and also to check whether there are signs of treason or other crimes in the president’s actions. If the conclusions are positive, the Parliament, by secret vote, decides on the impeachment of the president. In order for the president to be impeached, there must be 338 votes in favor or 75% of the Parliament.

Ramifications of the Law

If the Constitutional Court does not like the way the impeachment was investigated, it can oblige the temporary investigation committee to conduct additional investigations, reconsider its decisions or withdraw some of the accusations.

But if the Supreme Court does not agree with the conclusion and does not see state treason or other crimes in the actions of the president, there are more serious consequences. In this case, the parliament must terminate the impeachment procedure, and the Speaker of the parliament must apologize to the Head of State on behalf of the parliament. The same procedure applies when it was not possible to collect a sufficient number of votes for the final decision to remove the president from office.

And finally: the president himself can stop the impeachment procedure if he resigns. However, it will not save him from criminal prosecution - the materials of the case against him are transferred to the pretrial investigative authorities.

/By Fedir Prokopchuk

/Translated by Allison Martinez