Judicial reform formally completed as second top judicial body is appointed

All 16 members of the High Qualification Commission, a judicial body that vets and nominates candidates for judicial jobs, have been appointed now.

The final selection was made on June 1 by the High Council of Justice, the judiciary’s main governing body. The council, which makes final decisions on hiring, firing, and punishing judges, was re-launched in 2022.

With the appointment of the two judicial bodies, Ukraine’s ongoing judicial reform has been completed on paper. Now, opinions differ on whether the reform is a success.

According to the concept of the reform, new members of the High Qualification Commission and High Council of Justice are supposed to be honest, independent, and professional. They must bring fundamental change to the judiciary.

The two top judicial bodies now have a job to fill over 2,000 judicial positions.

Optimists say that the new members of the two bodies include some good candidates, while most haven’t been involved in scandals so far.

But critics argue that many independent and reformist candidates for the two bodies have been rejected, while at least several tainted candidates have still managed to get top judicial jobs.

Moreover, there’s little information on most of the new appointees.

Mykhailo Zhernakov, head of judicial watchdog Dejure, characterized the appointments to the High Qualification Commission as a partial victory.

He said on Facebook that there is no negative information on most of the new members, and only two out of the 16 don’t meet integrity standards.

However, no representatives of civil society – the most radical agents of reform – were included in the final list, Zhernakov said. The High Council of Justice rejected the most independent candidates, he added.

“The judicial community is incapable of cleansing itself and will fight for the status quo at any cost,” Zhernakov said.

Judicial expert Halia Chyzhyk, whistleblower judge Larysa Golnyk, and Vitaly Tytych, ex-head of judicial watchdog Public Integrity Council, are more skeptical about the results of the reform.

“I don’t know anything about most of the new members (of the High Qualification Commission),” Golnyk told the Kyiv Independent. “It appears that there will be no real reformers at the High Qualification Commission. (The authorities) appear to have bet on ‘dark horses’ again. I’m also concerned about the selection of two candidates who are not trusted by civil society.”

Tytych, who has been rejected as a candidate for the High Qualification Commission, argued that the reform is a failure.

The selection panel claimed it would choose the best of the best candidates for the High Qualification Commission, but in reality, there is no proof of the professionalism or integrity of the new members, he added.

“I don’t even know who these people are,” he said.

Chyzhyk agrees with this assessment.

“The idea of the contest was to choose the best but the best were not appointed,” she told the Kyiv Independent. “They were rejected at different stages of the contest.”

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