Zelensky seeks to curb controversial court’s powers
The court’s chief and a number of judges are under investigationPhoto from UNIAN
President Volodymyr Zelensky will propose that the Verkhovna Rada back a package of three bills his office has authored to resolve a number of issues in the judicial system, his press service reports.
The debate on the bills will start as early as next week, the report reads, adding that, if adopted, new legislation will “strengthen the rule of law and accelerate transformation of Ukrainian courts in people’s interests.”
The first draft law put forward by President shall take from under the jurisdiction of the Kyiv District Administrative Court (OASK) all judicial disputes where acts are challenged, issued by central executive bodies, state regulators, and any other government actors, applicable to the entire territory.
Such cases shall be heard by the Supreme Court and appealed in its Grand Chamber.
This will disallow manipulation regarding norms and regulations by government actors, which could be the case through lawsuits filed with the OASK, the report noted.
The second bill provides for mandatory integrity vetting of current and future members of the High Council of Justice, also regulating operations of the Disciplinary Inspectorate as a permanent structural unit of the Verkhovna Rada Secretariat.
The third bill is about the amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, introducing liability for failure to provide information at the inquiry of HCJ disciplinary inspectors.
The President insists that the Rada considers the package as soon as possible, the Office stressed.
“The work of the judiciary must be fixed. Law and justice should be the main words for Ukrainian courts. Current legislation provides the necessary framework for introducing changes. However, concrete steps require confirmation from parliament,” Zelensky explained.
Charges against OASK Chief Judge Pavlo Vovk: Background
On July 26, 2019, transcripts and audio of wiretapped communications were published on NABU’s website, purporting the unlawful interference by judges of Kyiv’s District Administrative Court (OASK) in the work of the High Qualification Commission of Judges. This included creating obstacles to the qualification assessment of judges of the said court for compliance with the position held. During the vetting, it is not only the level of professional skills that is checked but also the origin of the judges’ assets and their involvement in corruption scandals.
The Prosecutor General’s Office said the unlawful influence was recorded on decision-making by the Constitutional Court, the High Qualification Commission of Judges, the High Council of Justice, as well as the impact on Ukraine’s ministries, departments, and the State Bureau of Investigation.
On August 2, 2019, the PGO filed charges against Chair Pavlo Vovk, judges Yevhen Ablov and Ihor Pohribnychenko, as well as a judge of the Suvorov District Court of Odesa, Ivan Shepitko, all of whom appear in the NABU wiretaps.
In November, the then Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka said the investigation targeting Vovk had been completed and the case had been forwarded to court.
However, the High Council of Justice dismissed the prosecutor general’s motion to deprive Vovk of the functions of administering justice in connection with the ongoing criminal proceeding targeting him.
On January 21, 2020, Vovk was re-elected as Chairman of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv.
On July 17, 2020, searches were held at the OASK premises in Kyiv, as well as at the State Judicial Administration.
According to the Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), the investigation targets a 12-strong criminal organization, led by the OASK chairman, who aimed to seize state power by establishing control over the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine, the High Council of Justice, and by creating artificial obstacles in their work.
On August 11, NABU put on the list of wanted persons seven defendants in the case of the alleged power seizure conspiracy by the leadership of Kyiv’s District Administrative Court who the agency believes grabbed control of the High Qualification Commission of Judges.