Western Diplomats Express Concern About Ukraine's Judicial Reforms After Delay

Western diplomats have expressed concern over Ukraine’s delay in implementing recently passed judicial legislation that is seen in Washington and Brussels as crucial to improving the nation's rule of law and cleaning up corruption.

Following a meeting on September 16 at President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office in Kyiv with senior members of Ukraine’s parliament and judicial bodies, diplomats from the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations and the European Union backed a joint statement demanding judicial reforms move forward.

The G7 diplomats warned against attempts to delay reforms “aimed at strengthening the rule of law, increasing public confidence in the judiciary, attracting foreign investment, and bringing Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic future closer,” according to a copy of the statement distributed by Ukraine’s presidential office.

Ukraine’s parliament in July passed two bills to revamp the nation’s judicial system in a long-awaited move applauded by Washington and Brussels.

The nation's judicial system is plagued by corruption, undermining political and economic progress. Western nations have tied future financial aid to its overhaul.

The legislation calls for the creation of panels to oversee the two bodies responsible for selecting and choosing candidates for judicial vacancies.

The panels would consist of six experts each, including three Ukrainian citizens chosen by the nation’s Council of Judges and three foreigners picked by G7 nations.

Ukraine’s judiciary has opposed the reforms, saying the inclusion of foreign experts in the selection process compromises the nation’s sovereignty. It wants to amend the legislation.

In a move seen as an attempt to delay its implementation, the Council of Judges failed to name three experts for one of the two panels by the September 13 deadline. That prompted Zelenskiy to call the meeting with representatives of the G7 countries -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States.

In a statement, the U.S. State Department said the Council of Judges' refusal to nominate Ukrainian judges to participate in the process “threatens to derail the promise of real judicial reform in Ukraine.”

“We remain firmly committed to assisting in this critical reform so that the people of Ukraine may trust their courts and judges and so that Ukraine can continue on its path toward Euro-Atlantic integration,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Civil society activists say outside experts are necessary because the nation’s judicial system is controlled by tycoons and other powerful special interests.

Pointing to past failures to get rid of compromised judges, they say Ukraine's judiciary is incapable of reforming itself.

Ukraine has a history of failing to implement legislation deemed critical to its aspirations of joining Euro-Atlantic organizations because of opposition by special interests.

During the September 16 meeting, Nicolas Harrocks, the deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Kyiv, called on Ukrainian officials to move forward with what he called "high-quality" legislation.

Matti Maasikas, the head of the EU delegation to Ukraine, told the meeting that the fate of judicial reforms will impact Ukraine’s ability to attract aid and foreign investment.

Bohdan Monich, chairman of the Council of Judges, said his organization is “determined to implement this law." But he also stated that it had prepared amendments to the bill for choosing members of the panels.

The meeting was chaired by Andriy Smyrnov, the deputy head of the presidential office.

Tetiana Shevchuk, legal counsel for the Kyiv-based Anti-Corruption Action Center, told RFE/RL the meeting seemed to generate “no meaningful progress” on the standoff between the judiciary and proponents of reforms.

“The office of the president and the parliament showed their commitment to the reform, but it's unclear whether this will be enough to unblock it,” she said.