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Published On: Tue, Aug 1st, 2017

Poroshenko signs controversial law on appointment of Constitutional Court judges

nsnbc : Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, on July 31, signed a new, controversial law on pertaining the country’s Constitutional Court. Critics stress that the new legislation allows the Presidency, parliament and the Congress of Judges to arbitrarily appoint Supreme Court Justices without transparent competition. However, Poroshenko praised the law for increasing transparency and for granting every citizen the right to appeal directly.

Kiev_Ukraine_Ukraine's Supreme Court_(archives)The bill signed into law by President Poroshenko was backed by 245 lawmakers on July 13, 2017. The law stipulates supposedly introduces a selective principle of the judges’ appointment. However, experts say that the way it is written opens the doors for politically motivated appointments, thus blurring the lines between the executive, legislative and judiciary.

The new Constitutional Court will, like the old one, consist of 18 judges with president, parliament and the Congress of Judges each appointing six of them. The judges can be appointed for nine years without the possibility of re-appointment for a second term.

However, the new law stipulates that candidates will be selected by special bodies that are in direct dependency from each of them. This, for example, the president will approve candidates selected by the commission whose members he appoints himself. Candidates for the judges appointed by parliament and congress will now be selected by a special parliamentary committee and the Council of Judges, respectively.

The legislation does not stipulate how candidates should be selected. Critics stress that this means that president, parliament, or the Congress of Judges can potentially appoint whoever they prefer to see in the Constitutional Court.

Roman Kuybida, an expert with the Reanimation Package of Reforms watchdog, for example, notes that the new law continues the tradition of political control over the Constitution Court. Speaking with reporters he said “There will be no quality changes in the appointment of the judges of the Constitution Court. … Political motives will dominate.”

Svitlana Zalishchuk, a lawmaker with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, agrees that the law doesn’t establish a transparent competition. He said “The law doesn’t specify neither the number of people in the commission, nor competition’s criteria. … It also doesn’t give information on how and where the results would be published.”

Law cancels secret votes in election of parliament’s human rights ombudsman

It was also stressed that the new law cancels the secret voting for the parliament’s human rights ombudsman. Lawmakers will now have to vote openly vote for the ombudsman, which allows for a politicized appointment and for pressuring elected lawmakers to “towing the party line” instead of voting independently.

During the voting for the new law on the Constitutional Court in parliament on July 13, lawmaker Olga Chervakova presented an amendment to preserve the secret voting procedure. The amendment was passed, but didn’t make it into the final text of the law,  presumably, because it was presented under the wrong number by mistake.

Earlier the heads of the prominent human rights organizations, including Transparency International, Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Crimea SOS and others signed an open letter to the president asking him not to sign the law without the amendment that would preserve the secret voting.

Poroshenko praises new law for introducing transparency and direct appeal mechanisms

President petro Poroshenko, for his part, praised the new law. In a video address published on July 31 Poroshenko made the exact opposite claim to that of critics, saying the new law will give Ukraine a “transparent competition” for the Constitutional Court. Poroshenko also highlighted one of the main positive changes that the law brings: It introduces the right for all citizens to file an appeal to the Constitutional Court by themselves. Earlier, the President, the lawmakers, the Supreme Court or the ombudsman had to submit the appeal on behalf of a citizen.

That said, the main criticism focuses on claims that the Constitutional Court justices, which used to be subservient to the oligarchy of ousted President Victor Yanukovich, are now controlled by President Petro Porosheno and the oligarchical systems around him. In 2014 the Ukrainian parliament, at the time of turmoil and radical changes, fired five Constitutional Court judges for violating their oath by letting Yanukovych usurp power. Lawmakers urged the president and the Council of Judges to fire the rest of the judges.

However, Poroshenko and the council have not done so. Several judges of the court are being investigated on suspicion of helping Yanukovych usurp power. They allegedly got a $6 million bribe from the Party of Regions, according to the party’s secret accounting ledger published last year. The party and its members deny the allegation.

F/AK – nsnbc 01.08.2017

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