High Council of Justice refused to remove from office suspected judges of the capital’s administrative court
On September 1, the High Council of Justice (hereinafter – HCJ) considered the request of the Prosecutor General to remove from office a number of judges of Kyiv District Administrative Court (hereinafter – KDAC) suspected of establishing a criminal organization that interfered in the activities of other authorities to resolve personal issues or issues of other people, in particular, aimed to establish control over the High Qualifications Commission of Judges and the HCJ (for more details, please refer to the weekly analysis of 13-20 July 2020).
Upon consideration, due to allegedly improper notification of suspicions to the judges, the HCJ returned without consideration the requests to remove from office judges P. Vovk, І. Pohribinchenko, О. Ogurtsov, V. Keleberda. As regards the other suspected judges – E. Ablov and І. Kachur, the HCJ refused to remove them from office, referring to inadequacy and inadmissibility of the evidence provided.
Shortly before the consideration of the requests by the HCJ, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (hereinafter – NABU) published another portion of materials of covert investigative actions against KDAC judges, which may indicate a significant influence of the KDAC Chairman P. Vovk on individual HCJ members and, as a result, his ability to influence the activities of the entire council to bring individual judges to disciplinary responsibility, and vice versa – to assist other judges in avoiding such responsibility. The records also contain evidence of the possible influence of P. Vovk on the formation of HCJ personnel.
Consideration of requests on the removal of KDAC judges by the HCJ was carried out in conditions that significantly undermine the credibility of the decisions taken.
First, despite the significant public response to this case, Ukraine’s quarantine restrictions, and NGOs requests, the HCJ refused to provide online broadcasting of the meeting, when the requests were considered, and at the same time it obstructed access to the meeting for anyone who intended to attend.
Second, a few days after the publication of NABU materials on KDAC judges, the HCJ issued several decisions condemning the dissemination of such materials, as well as publicly alleging the illegality of the actions of the pre-trial investigation body to summon individual members of the HCJ for interrogation in criminal proceedings against KDAC judges (for more details, please refer to the weekly analysis of July 20-27, 2020). This raises reasonable doubts about the impartiality of the HCJ in considering the requests of the prosecutor’s office.
Third, on September 3, NABU issued a statement alleging that the HCJ had neglected the facts of the investigation in considering these requests. The Bureau noted that: “contrary to its own position, the High Council of Justice considered it appropriate to serve a notice of suspicion on one of the judges, although he received such a notice in the same way as other judges of the KDAC who were hiding from the investigation.” In addition, NABU pointed out that the HCJ has made untrue allegations that the materials of the requests had not been granted court permission to use the results of covert investigative actions, as well as that no materials were provided certifying the connection of individual HCJ members with suspected judges of the KDAC.
The CPLR experts are of the opinion that the situation that arose in connection with the publication of materials on KDAC judges is a manifestation of key problems of justice – corruption, dependence of judges, making pre-determined decisions, neglect of conflicts of interest and mutual guarantee in the judiciary. The same situation showed not only the unwillingness of the HCJ as a key body of judicial governance to effectively counter these phenomena, but, on the contrary, demonstrated that the members of this body are most likely an element of these phenomena.
It should be reminded that the requirement to verify HCJ members for compliance with the criterion of integrity is one of Ukraine’s international commitments within the framework of participation in macro-financial assistance programs by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.