Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ukrainian leaders should respect the independence of the judiciary

The Human Right Organization has come out and published a scathing report criticising Ukraine's President, Victor Yushchenko for his political interference in the independence of Ukraine's judiciary. This criticism comes following Yushchenko's dismissal of another judge that ruled against his presidential decrees.

“As president of a democratic country, Yushchenko should observe and respect the independence of the judiciary, and not interfere with courts when they issue rulings he doesn’t like,” said Allison Gill, Moscow office director at Human Rights Watch.

Referring to Yushchenko ordering SBU agents to oversea the Courts deliberations

“It’s one thing for the security services to provide protection for judges,” said Gill. “But it’s quite another when they’re actually in chambers during deliberations. At a minimum, this creates the appearance of potential intimidation or even interference with a pending decision.”

Nihilism on high

Kyiv Post has also published an editorial peace by Katya Gorchinskaya attacking the President's annihilation of justice in Ukraine. She headline the article with the question "When leaders don’t even obey the law, what hope is there for the rule of law?"

The executive branch cannot legally dismiss the judicial branch at will. There is a procedure for it, and it has to be observed by all political players, including the president – but it was not. There are strong calls to restart the long-postponed judicial reform, but it’s unclear how it would help in this mess and who would be able to carry it out in the first place and then implement it, if the country’s top officials so readily ignore laws, apply pressure and intimidate judges.
Unless judges are free of fear and pressure, there is no justice. Unless all branches of power observe law, democracy becomes an oxymoron. Unless all political players sacrifice their ambition and do their job right, it doesn’t matter how many parliamentary and presidential elections are held and how often – the country will stay in a mess.

The criticism of the Human Rights Umbrella group echos the concern expressed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in 2007 in which PACE was highly critical of Victor Yushchenko's interference in the operation of Ukraine's courts.

“The Assembly deplores the fact that the judicial system of Ukraine has been systematically misused by other branches of power and that top officials do not execute the courts’ decisions, which is a sign of erosion of this crucial democratic institution. An independent and impartial judiciary is a precondition for the existence of a democratic society governed by the rule of law."

The independence of the courts is enshrined in Ukraine's Constitution.

The recent interference in Ukraine's judiciary is made worse by the fact that it is Ukraine's head of State that has compromised the constitutional independence of Ukraine's judiciary. In a western democracy interference in the courts is an indictable offence and certainly grounds for impeachment of the head of state.