Ukraine must finally overcome corrupt influences that undermine the rule of law and hold the country back from its Euro-Atlantic path.
Charge d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv Kristina Kvien, Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine Matti Maasikas and British Ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons wrote this in an article "Now Is the Moment to Transform Ukraine" for the Ukrayinska Pravda news site.
According to the diplomats, while passage by the Ukrainian parliament of the laws on judicial reform, including the reform of the High Council of Justice, was an enormous achievement, implementation of the actual reforms – including the "integrity checks" of judicial body members — must now take place.
At the same time, they said that, unfortunately, the Council of Judges (COJ) has so far failed to nominate representatives to the HCJ's Ethics Council, the body which would perform this important work. In addition, diplomats suggested that by establishing excessive, extra-legislative qualification requirements, the COJ may have discouraged Ukrainian judges from applying.
"The best way forward for judicial reform is clear: We call upon the COJ to allow those who want to support this reform to serve on the Ethics Council. We know that there are many professional, capable, honest legal professionals who want to do so," the ambassadors said.
They also noted that the COJ's move was not the only challenge facing judicial reform. A separate setback occurred October 8, when Ukraine's Supreme Court petitioned the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of certain provisions of the HCJ reform law.
In this context, the ambassadors recalled that the Constitutional Court sparked a crisis a year ago by declaring Ukraine's asset declaration registry unconstitutional and invalidating key provisions of Ukraine's corruption prevention law. This widely-criticized decision highlighted the urgent need for reform of the Constitutional Court (CCU), and led to President Volodymyr Zelensky's declaration that in addition to judicial reform, CCU reform was one of his highest priorities.
"The president rightly understood that establishment of a transparent, merit-based selection procedure for CCU judges is key in ensuring gradual renewal of this controversial court. This step, together with a temporary increase in the decision-making quorum are among the most important recommendations of the Venice Commission and they are, in our view, the right way ahead. Unfortunately, we have not seen any progress on this reform since the Venice Commission issued its opinion on this matter in December 2020," the ambassadors said.
According to them, only when the highest levels of the judiciary are viewed as independent and principled can trust in the judiciary among citizens be established and sustained. International businesses are also consistently calling for this reform to unlock foreign direct investment into Ukraine by creating a more stable, transparent investment climate and fostering rule of law, they said.
"So, now is the time. The time to stand up to vested interests and their accomplices, to insist on fair and equal treatment under Ukrainian law for all citizens, and to finally overcome the corrupt influences that undermine rule of law and hold Ukraine back from its Euro-Atlantic path," the ambassadors said.
Finally, they added that the international community will stand behind you as you take these important steps forward.