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Ukraine’s MPs Cancelled Parliamentary Immunity. Why Is This Dangerous?
4 September, 2019
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MPs vote to cancel the parliamentary immunity, Kyiv, September 3, 2019 Photo credit: Ratynskiy Vyacheslav / UNIAN

Ukrainian MPs have supported the amendment of the Constitution, abolishing parliamentary immunity. The bill proposed by previous President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko was supported by all factions and groups except Opposition Platform — For Life. Hromadske explains what this decision means.

1. What Does the Cancellation of Parliamentary Immunity Mean?

The MPs amended the Constitution by removing from Article 80 the provisions on the parliamentarians’ immunity. Now the only things that the deputies are not legally responsible for are the results of voting and sayings inside the Parliament. Although there are exceptions here - responsibility for offense or defamation remains.

The Constitutional Court found such changes constitutional. The changes will take effect from January 1, 2020.

2. How Was It Before?

A Member of Parliament could not be detained and held accountable without the consent of the Parliament, even if there was clear evidence of involvement in the crime.

At present, in order to remove an MP’s immunity, the Prosecutor General must first submit a motion to Parliament. After that, the Speaker has to ask him to write an explanation to the Regulatory Committee. And only after consideration and conclusions of the committee, MPs must vote within 7 days for or against deprivation of the immunity. Since Ukraine gained independence, only 20 MPs were deprived of immunity.

3. How Was the Legislative Immunity Abolished?

The Fifth President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko introduced a bill to abolish parliamentary immunity almost two years ago, on October 17, 2017. The document had been considered by the Constitutional Court for seven months. After that, the parliamentary committee had worked on the document the same amount of time. It was in late May when the newly elected president Volodymyr Zelenskyy introduced the bill to the parliament. As a presidential candidate, Zelenskyy promised to cancel the immunity.

On the night of August 30 at the first session of Rada of the IX convocation, 363 MPs preliminarily approved the changes to the Constitution. On September 3, the first day of the second session, 373 MPs supported the bill.

READ MORE: Ukrainian Parliament Votes to Cancel Parliamentary Immunity

4. Can MPs Gain Immunity Again?

It is possible. There were violations during the adoption of the bill. 

The main complaint is about violating the procedure concerning the conclusion of the profile committee. It was submitted on Monday, September 2, which is in the intersession period, when the committee cannot convene for a meeting. This means the decision may be challenged in court.

According to Yuliya Kyrychenko, a constitutional expert at the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, MPs have ignored the norm of the Constitution to hold the prior approval and adoption of amendments in different sessions of the parliament, having held a one-day summer session on August 29. Thus, they did not formally violate the law but have ignored the principle enshrined in the Constitution.

READ MORE: The Governing Model Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Builds

5. What Are the Dangers?

All the MPs of the IX convocation could be under risk if law enforcement officers initiate a case against them and consider that there are sufficient reasons for an arrest. There has been a warning from the Venice Commission.

Before the vote, the Ukrainian civil network OPORA called on MPs to have a careful approach to amendments of the Constitution and to take the international experience into account.

"Full cancelation of parliamentary immunity can be dangerous for functioning and autonomy of parliaments in countries with vulnerable democracies and big-scale corruption practices," OPORA's August 28 statement read. "Unfortunately, Ukraine can still be considered such a country, therefore the Ukrainian Parliament needs to prevent the risk of pressure on deputies or of their political persecution.

/ By Fedir Prokopchuk, translated by Vladyslav Kudryk