1.Why was the Supreme Court overhauled?

Because the Supreme Court is a model which lower-level courts orient themselves on. In the new three-tier system that consists of local courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court, the latter plays the guiding role.

2. What are the functions of the Supreme Court?

Firstly, the Supreme Court administers justice as the higher appellate court, and in some cases—as a court of original jurisdiction or an appellate court. Secondly, the Supreme Court ensures consistent application of law by courts, analyzes court decisions and brings them to a common denominator. Thirdly, the Supreme Court is the institution that, in case of necessity, rules on whether there are grounds for impeaching the President of Ukraine. Fourthly, the Supreme Court is the institution that files a motion to the Constitutional Court when there are doubts regarding whether a certain law or statute is constitutional.

3. For the first time, selection of justices for the Supreme Court was competitive. How did this process go?

The selection was open and transparent, and there were a lot of things that were firsts:

  • there were 10 candidates for every vacancy;
  • candidate profiles spanned from 300 to 800 pages each, and all of them were publicly available online;
  • candidates were evaluated by the High Qualification Commission, half of which was composed of judges;
  • the methodology of selection was developed with the participation and support of Ukrainian and international experts, including those from the EU project “Support to Justice Sector Reforms in Ukraine (PRAVO)” and the USAID project “New Justice”;
  • candidates were vetted by the specially constituted Public Integrity Council that consisted of representatives of respected NGOs.

4. How were the judges selected?

The selection process included: a written test and a practical assignment by specialization; four psychological tests; a review of the candidate’s profile, including information on them supplied by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, the National Agency on Corruption Prevention, the National Police, and the Public Integrity Council; a stringent interview; and a discussion of the candidate by the whole commission. Candidates were earning a certain number of points at every stage. The largest number of points that could be earned was 500 for professional expertise and 250 each for professional ethics and integrity—the scope and steadfastness of their moral principles.

5. When did the new Supreme Court begin its work?

The new Supreme Court started its work on December 15, 2017. Out of 1436 candidates, 115 new justices were selected, including not only sitting judges, but also practicing lawyers and legal scholars. 3 more justices were appointed later to fill the remaining vacancies. Valentyna Danishevska became the new Chairman of the Supreme Court.

Chairman of the Supreme Court Valentyna Danishevska

Prior to coming to work at the Supreme Court, she had been an arbiter at the Arbitration Court of the Zaporizhzhya region, had headed an NGO called the Center for Commercial Law for 17 years, and had had 16 years’ experience of providing legal consulting services and 24 years’ experience of teaching law.

6. How many cases has the Supreme Court heard so far?

As of December 1, 2018, the new Supreme Court has heard 80,936 cases, motions, and complaints. Among them, there were a number of “model cases”—cases that affect whole categories of people and are thus coming up very often. The number of practically identical lawsuits brought to court might run into hundreds of thousands. The rulings of the Supreme Court in these types of cases become precedents, which means they solve all of the similar cases at once, which saves a lot of time and effort for both claimants and the court system.

7. Could you give an example of a model case?

We can cite a decision in case # 805/402/18 that concerned denying benefit payments to an internally displaced person. Over 200 similar cases had been brought to court at around the same time.

A retiree who had moved to the Bakhmut raion had her benefits frozen, with the local division of the Pension Fund citing a decree of the Cabinet of Ministers to justify this decision. The Pension Fund had thus violated the plaintiff’s rights. The Supreme Court ruled that freezing benefits under this decree to internally displaced people and people who live on the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is illegal. The Court took the position that wherever a citizen of Ukraine lives, their rights cannot be violated by administrative regulations. This decision of the Court now has to be applied as a model in all similar cases.

8. Were there other notable decisions?

Some of the rulings and interpretations of the Supreme Court, although not rising to the level of model decisions, deal with problems that are a pain point and thus capture the public’s attention: these situations are followed, covered in media, and discussed on social media. Here are two examples.

Law enforcement may not search a person without a good reason. Police officers would often abuse their power by conducting a full-scale search in place of the so-called “surface inspection” that normally does not require drawing up a protocol. In a decision of February 8, 2018, the Supreme Court has expressly delineated the difference: a surface inspection can only refer to what is actually “on the surface”, not inside a pocket or a backpack.

Kyiv’s Hostynyi Dvir (a historical indoor market built in 1809 that is a registered landmark) has been retained in state ownership. Since 1994, it had been leased out to private tenants. As it wasn’t taken care of, it gradually fell into disrepair: the building developed cracks, while the inner yard grew over with weeds. Regaining control over the property took a long time. On May 8, 2018, the Supreme Court finally upheld the appellate court decision and recognized the state’s ownership over Hostynyi Dvir, which saved the landmark from ruin.

9. What kind of impact do the Supreme Court decision make?

The work of the Supreme Court has an impact not only on the court system as a whole, but also on the whole country. The reform has radically bolstered the role of the Supreme Court. Its decisions in societally significant cases shape the legal consciousness of lawyers, government officials, and lawmakers, while for millions of regular Ukrainians, they become the solution to pressing daily issues, imbuing the concept of the rule of law with its true protective meaning.

10. Can one learn more about other decisions of the Supreme Court?

Current information on the latest rulings can be accessed on the Supreme Court’s Facebook page. Soon, the Supreme Court’s own website will be up and running, providing even more information on its work.

(Cover photo: kafedr.at.ua)