What is the future of Ukrainian litigation after quarantine?
Roman Smalіuk comments on the issue.
Since mid-March, Ukraine has imposed unprecedented restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease COVID-19. From the first days of quarantine, the courts were advised to establish a special regime to minimize visits to court premises. At the end of March, the Parliament adopted a so-called "Anticoronavirus" law (entered into force on April 2). It partially touched upon the court proceedings in civil, commercial, and administrative cases. Roman Smaliuk, an expert of the Centre of Policy and Legal Reform, analysed the possible consequences of the influence of quarantine and regulations aimed at combating coronavirus on the judiciary.
As the number of taken decisions, reviewed cases and sentences reduced, CPLR experts found that the number of pending cases in the courts has begun to grow, which is obviously due to the established special regime of the courts during quarantine. The analysis shows that the local general courts and the Supreme Court are at risk and should expect to receive more cases after quarantine. In general, experts predict that the situation will have a "snowball effect", since due to the large backlog of old cases and a great number of new cases, the time frame for consideration of cases has been violated and the number of pending cases is accumulating. The result may be a dizzying array of pending cases, which the courts will be struggling to cope with.
The development of remote justice
Since April 2 this year, the parties to civil, commercial, and administrative cases have been entitled to participate in the sessions by videoconference from their homes, offices, or other premises outside the court. Although court videoconferencing has not taken hold and has been accompanied by a violation of the principle of publicity, during a few months of quarantine distance justice has become more widespread than in the years of its official planned implementation (since 2011). During the quarantine period, the Ukrainian judicial system gained unique experience in practical testing of e-litigation. Consequently, the experts of the CPRL recommend at the legislative level to retain the provision on the possibility of case participants to participate in videoconference sessions outside the court premises and after the quarantine and to conduct explanatory work among the courts on strict compliance with the principle of openness of court proceedings
Judicial communication: a failed test
Quarantine has revealed significant problems with judicial communication. Most courts were never able to explain in an accessible way how quarantine affects their work, what will happen to cases that are pending, how to go to court under restrictive conditions, how the law has changed due to quarantine.
In general, with proper prediction of the negative consequences of quarantine and studying its benefits, the Ukrainian justice system can leave the quarantine with a strong capacity for further development of e-litigation, a significant margin of safety in case of recurrence of similar situations, if it manages to cope with the backlog of pending cases, as well as with a well-established communication system.
Detailed information on the impact of the quarantine on Ukrainian judiciary is available here.