1. How Did Ukraine’s Judiciary Get Its Start?
Ukraine has inherited an ineffective judiciary from a totalitarian state—the Soviet Union. Back in those times, the judicial system had a specific place and role—it was a decorative element of a different system, the punitive one. Masking themselves as institutions guided exclusively by law, courts would in many cases just carry out instructions of the ruling party, providing a cover for the persecution of regular innocent people.
A Soviet court. Even its interior conjures a feeling of something inhumane and totalitarian. (Photo: lb.ua)
Even today, if you ask a regular citizen what the role of the court in society is, you will often hear answers like “catching thieves” and “punishing crooks.” Unfortunately, you will not hear the main thing—the word “justice.” This distorted perception is the legacy of our Soviet past.
2. What happened with our judiciary after Ukraine had regained its independence?
One would think that, having won back our independence, we would get a chance to build a judiciary that would ensure equal opportunities for all, guarantee fair legal treatment for everyone, and contribute to Ukraine’s transformation into a competitive, prosperous, modern country. However, the only thing that changed was the “door sign”, while all the talk of “democracy” and the “rule of law” was simply a dust veil, behind which old inefficient Soviet institutions morphed into post-Soviet hybrid entities that are often deaf to people’s needs, at variance with European standards, and dependent on politicians and their whims.
The notorious judge Ihor Zvarych became one of the media symbols of bribery in Ukrainian courts. (Photo: varianty.lviv.ua)
This tendency peaked during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. The judiciary turned into a corporation that was corrupt to its very core. The degradation of the judiciary became one of the key factors that led to the Revolution of Dignity.
3. What happens with the judiciary after the reform?
The reform of the judiciary was launched in 2014 because there was a societal demand for it. The legislative and institutional stages of the reform will be completed by 2020. These stages will mean a complete overhaul of the judiciary. The reform of the pertinent legislation, with its basis in the best European practices, is almost complete. Institutions will be revamped by the end of 2019; being modeled on similar institutions internationally, they will become more modern and attuned to people’s real needs. But even the best laws and the most progressive institutions will not work if there is no change in the people who are the lifeblood of this system.
Tetiana Antsupova, justice of the new Supreme Court
The system needs to be reinvigorated with the influx of competent and honest legal professionals who understand that the rule of law is not just a nice-sounding concept, but something that every court at every level of the judicial system in every Ukrainian city must aspire to daily.