The provision reducing the number of judges of the Supreme Court to 100 effectively amounts to a second vetting and should be removed as the Venice Commission stated concerning the law on the judicial reform initiated by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to Ukrainian News, the judicial reform of Zelensky has begun with the adoption of the scandalous draft law #1008 on the activity of the bodies of the judicial authority. The bill 193-IX provides the reboot of the new Supreme Court by holding of the repeated selection of the judges and reducing their number twice (from 200 to 100), liquidation of the Highest Qualification Commission of Judges (HQCJ) and creation of new, extension of authorities of the Supreme Justice Council.
The Venice Commission analyzed the mentioned legislative changes and reminded that Ukraine held the deep judicial reform during the last years and the implementation of some amendments is not finished yet. The reform of the process of the judges’ selection and new composition of the Supreme Court is “has been a marked improvement over the system that existed before”.
Concerning the amendments offered by Zelensky, “they interrupted all on-going assessment activities, especially the urgent assessment of judges of the first and second instances”.
The offers of Zelensky to reduce the number of the judges of the Supreme Court raised the most criticism of the Venice Commission experts.
“The reduction of the number of judges will trigger an even higher backlog of cases and jeopardise the functioning of the Supreme Court. Due to its current heavy caseload (some 70.000 cases), the Supreme Court will not be able to provide properly reasoned judgments within a reasonable time, contrary to Article 6 ECHR,” the conclusion said.
In such context, the commission also warns Ukraine that the repeated reforming after the elections is the signal for the judges and public that “the tenure of the judges depends on the will of the respective majority in parliament whether judges of the highest court may stay in office or not. This is an obvious threat to their independence and to the role of judiciary in the light of Article 6 ECHR,” the Commission experts are sure.
Finally, the Venice Commission recommends Ukraine to focus the reform on the courts of the first and appeal instances.
As it was reported, on September 11, a number of provisions of the bill №1008 proposed by Volodymyr Zelensky were severely criticized by Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to Ukraine Annika Weidemann and Canadian Ambassador Roman Vashchuk. Diplomats noted that the reduction of the number of judges of the Supreme Court is groundless, and the extension of lustration to members of the High qualification commission of judges of Ukraine is generally meaningless and ineffective. According to the ambassadors, the bill №1032 "On Amendments to Some Laws of Ukraine on Priority Measures for the Reform of the Prosecution Bodies" also needs serious revision.
On October 16, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the presidential bill #1008 on the activity of the bodies of the judicial self-administration.