Civil society groups have heavily criticised a draft bill establishing an anti-corruption court in Ukraine for failing to ensure the independence of the new institution.
When details of the long-awaited legislation were released on December 26, anti-corruption campaigners immediately blasted the government for ignoring recommendations made by the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe body that advises member states on how to bring their legal structures into line with European standards. Transparency International Ukraine called on President Poroshenko to withdraw the draft bill and submit a new one that complies with the Venice Commission’s recommendations. “There is good reason to doubt that if [the] draft [law] is passed, it will provide for independent and unbiased selection of judges and proper functioning of the future High Anti-Corruption Court,” Transparency Ukraine said in a statement.
The Anticorruption Action Centre (ANTAC) warned that if the legislation is passed in its current form “a fake institution vulnerable to external pressure will be established.” The civil society groups point to three main areas in which the bill fails to meet the standards set out by the Venice Commission.
- Nominees of international donors are only given an advisory role whereas the Venice Commission had insisted that foreign experts play a crucial role to ensure that independent and honest judges are selected.
- The jurisdiction of the court is too broad, covering cases which are not related to high-profile corruption like drug dealing and arms trafficking. Critics argue that this will only serve to bog the court down in non-corruption related cases.
- The eligibility requirements to become an anti-corruption judge are so strict that they will make it nearly impossible to find candidates who meet them, meaning it could take years to fill the seats. Among the requirements expected of a candidate: they must be older than 35 and have considerable anti-corruption or legal experience at international organisations; have worked as a judge for at least five years, be a legal scholar for at least seven years or a lawyer for at least seven years.
Moreover candidates who have worked at the prosecution service, the police, the State Security Service, the customs service, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, the National Agency for Preventing Corruption and many other law enforcement agencies over the last 10 years are banned from applying.
The establishment of the court was one of the reforms demanded by Ukraine’s donors as evidence of Kiev’s commitment to tackling endemic corruption in the country and failure to do so in a way that is acceptable to Ukraine’s donors could result in them withdrawing their financial support for Poroshenko’s government.