On 21 December 2016, the Ukrainian Parliament passed the Law on the Supreme Council of Justice, which is the new state body that will be responsible for the appointment, disciplinary prosecution, and dismissal of judges in Ukraine. The Law was signed by the President of Ukraine on 3 January 2017 and is expected to come into force in January 2017.
The new Law is a part of a wider corpus of legislation which is gradually being adopted by the Parliament in 2016 and aims to totally reform the Ukrainian court system.
The new Supreme Council of Justice (“Вища рада правосуддя”) will replace the current High Council of Justice (“Вища рада юстицїї”).
One of the most visible differences between the two bodies is that 11 out of 21 members of the new Council will be either active judges or retired judges, as compared to the current Council’s composition of just 3 judges out of 20 members. This provision of the new Law aims to increase the judiciary’s independence and also strengthen its powers of self-government. The manner in which the current Council is composed has been widely criticized as being susceptible to political pressure. The new Law prohibits nomination to the new Council of any members of the High Council of Justice who served in the office before 2014, during the term of the fugitive president Yanukovich.
Furthermore, members of the new Council will be subject to the same strict anti-corruption rules as the judges, including the obligation to submit a public and detailed declaration of assets. As another anti-corruption measure, the Law increases the salary of a member of the new Council, meaning it will be 50% higher than the salary a Ukrainian Supreme Court judge shall receive.
The Law, however, provides for a transitional period of until 30 April 2019, during which some members of the current High Council of Justice (most of them appointed after the Revolution of Dignity) will continue to act as members of the new Supreme Council of Justice. The current membership will be supplemented by a number of new members, appointed under the new rules, who will be drawn from a pool of active judges and retired judges in order to reach the requisite 11 to 21 members representation ratio provided by the new Law.
Some of the main powers of the new Council will include, inter alia:
- submission of proposals on the appointment of the judges (previously a power of the President or of the Parliament, depending on the circumstances);
- disciplinary proceedings against the judges (a disciplinary complaint may be filed to the Council by any person who believes that the judges’ behavior inside or even outside the courtroom is unethical);
- dismissal of the judges (previously one of the President or the Parliament’s powers, depending on the circumstances);
- giving consent to arrest or detain the judges (previously a power of the Parliament); and
- issuing various administrative regulations within the judiciary system, as well as taking part in the process to establish the amounts to be allocated from the state budget for the financing of the judiciary.
The establishment of the new Council is an important element in the overhauling of the Ukrainian court system, as this new body is expected to ensure, first of all, that judges with a high level of integrity will be appointed on an ethical basis and, secondly, that judges currently holding office can be properly supervised and can be made subject to disciplinary prosecution.