June 9, 2021
The Kyiv Post reported on June 8, “Gianni Buquicchio, head of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), on June 8 criticized Ukraine’s two main judicial reform bills and called for a bigger role for foreign experts.
Buquicchio made his remarks at Democracy in Action: Zero Corruption, a conference organized by the Anti-Corruption Action Center and other civil society groups.
‘The bill (on the High Qualification Commission) does not meet the Venice Commission recommendations and we do not support it,’ he said. The High Council of Justice needs to be vetted before it is entrusted with the setting up of the High Qualification Commission. This is imperative or judicial reform will be doomed.’
The bills, which have been passed in the first reading, aim to reform the judiciary’s two discredited governing bodies, the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges.
Anti-corruption activists and legal experts have criticized both bills, saying they would fail to reform the courts, nullify foreign experts’ role in judicial reform and break Ukraine’s commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The President’s Office and parliament’s legal policy committee did not respond to requests for comment.
In March, parliament approved the first reading of the bill on selecting a new High Qualification Commission of Judges, the gatekeeper that decides whether someone gets to become a judge.
The selection panel for choosing the Qualification Commission would comprise three Ukrainian judges and three foreign experts. At least four panel members will be needed to approve candidates.
This means that Ukrainian judges will be able to block the appointment of any reformist candidates, according to DEJURE, a legal think tank. This would effectively erase the foreign experts’ role in the process, according to legal analysts and anti-corruption watchdogs.
In April, the parliament’s legal policy committee approved the bill for a second reading despite objections by civil society and the Venice Commission. The reading is scheduled for next week.
The other bill, which deals with the High Council of Justice, was approved by parliament in the first reading in May. The role it gives to foreign experts is less decisive than the Venice Commission recommends.
‘Mechanisms with an international expert component are capable of ensuring an objective approach to candidates,’ Buquicchio said.”