By Swann Bigot , legal expert and consultant in international affairs, for Eurasia Business News – March 4, 2018

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The Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, approved in first reading the presidential bill No. 7440 on the High Anti-Corruption Court, reported Interfax Ukraine.

The draft bill has been voted by 282 deputies on 450 during the plenary session of the Parliament on Thursday, March 1.

The High Anti-Corruption Court is expected to be a critical component in the new anticorruption infrastructure in Ukraine, aimed to deliver greater accountability of public officials and confidence in state institutions.

Civil society and international partners of the country repeatedly called for the creation of such Court. Protesters had even started to camp outside the Parliament in Kyiv to put pressure on lawmakers, as the creation of a High Anti-Corruption Court  has been delayed since June 2016, when the Verkhovna Rada voted a law on judicial reform.

President Petro Poroshenko and his allies finally submitted the presidential draft law to Verkhovna Rada on December 22, 2017. Four alternative bills from deputies were also registered (No. 7440-1 by Valeriy Pysarenko, No. 7440-2 by Sergei Kaplin, No. 7440-3 by a group of deputies headed by Olena Sotnik and No. 7440-4 by Ihor Lutsenko).

However, the text was not included in the lawmakers’ agenda before March.

The presidential draft bill suggests to define the High Anti-Corruption Court as a permanent high specialized court in the judicial system of the country. Its jurisdiction will cover the entire territory of Ukraine. The court will consider the cases filed to it in first and appeal instances. Judges will be selected through competition.

The draft law also proposes to establish additional special requirements for judges of the High Anti-Corruption Court related to the field of the court’s jurisdiction and its specialization in criminal proceedings for corruption offenses.

Oleksiy Filatov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, presented the bill before deputies, saying that “the draft bill suggests to create a council of international experts of 7 members on the basis of proposals of international organizations with which Ukraine cooperates in the field of prevention and combating corruption […].”

In order to ensure transparency in the competitive selection of judges of the High Anti-corruption Court, video and audio recording of the meetings of the High Commission of qualification of judges are considered by the government and lawmakers.

However, the International Monetary Fund expressed in an official letter last January its concerns regarding the Poroshenko’s draft law on the High Anti-Corruption Court , considering that it contradicts Ukraine’s obligations towards international partners.

One of the main concerns is that the current draft law does not ensure the transparent selection of independent anticorruption judges.

According to the IMF, several provisions of the text are not consistent with the Ukrainian authorities’ commitments under the IMF-supported program and the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which is a group of independent experts in constitutional law. In particular, the IMF recommended that :

  • The selection process of judges must be transparent and independent ;
  • The eligibility requirements for candidates must be realistic ;
  • The security of the HACC must be ensured and independent of any third-party control ;
  • The draft law should suffice to establish and operationalize the HACC ;
  • The minimum number of judges to be appointed should be explicit in the law ;
  • The jurisdiction of HACC should align with the investigative jurisdiction of NABU and SAPO ;
  • The HACC should have exclusive jurisdiction on the corruption-related cases involving senior officials.

The World Bank praised the submission to Verkhovna Rada of the president’s draft law as a “very positive step” but also expressed recommendations over the text in a letter dated January 15, warning that $ 800 million of Policy-Based Guarantee (PBG) to support key reforms were at stake.

Finally, the European Union welcomed the submission of the bill but criticized several provisions of the draft law which would be contrary to the commitments of the Ukrainian government and the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

Nevertheless, lawmakers close to the President Poroshenko answered to concerns of Ukrainian civil society and international partners, stating that amendments complying with recommendations of the Venice Commission could be voted before the second and final reading, which would come by the end of April according to Alexander Danilyuk, Minister of Finance.

Western backers of Ukraine made clear that the country has to do more against corruption in order to secure future financial support. In the 2017 Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Ukraine ranked 130th on 180 countries.

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© Copyright 2018 – Swann Bigot, legal expert and consultant in international affairs.