A final conference organised in Kyiv on June 13, marked the official completion of the Project "Continued Support to the Reform of Criminal Justice in Ukraine", implemented by the Council of Europe starting from 2015, and funded by the Government of Denmark (the Project).
The event brought together over 100 beneficiaries and project partners, including: Ivanna Smachylo, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine, Anzhela Stryzhevska, Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shemchuk, Deputy Head of Qualifications and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors, Mykhailo Misiura, Head of the Council of Public Prosecutor's, Olena Sotnyk, Member of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine, Oleksii Boniuk, Director of Coordination Center for Legal Aid Provision, Ivan Lishchyna, Government Agent of Ukraine before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Yurii Sevruk, Pro-rector of the National Prosecution Academy of Ukraine (NAPU) and many others.
The conference allowed experts with a wide range of backgrounds to discuss the joint achievements of the Project and the national authorities, as well as to evaluate the progress of the ongoing reform processes according to the overall and specific objectives of the Project. In particular, the reforms of the public prosecution service (PPS), the development of the free legal aid (FLA) system and civil society participation in the respective reform processes received specific attention.
Christophe Poirel, Council of Europe Director of Human Rights, noted that the Project was a part of the ongoing work of the Council of Europe, aimed at supporting Ukraine's fulfillment of its obligations as a member state of the Organisation.
- The Project is a good example of the fruitful cooperation between the Ukrainian authorities, civil society and our long-standing partnership with the Danish Government, which provided financial support. It focused on three key tasks: providing comprehensive support for the implementation of the prosecutor's reform, in line with European standards, increasing the capacity of the system of free legal assistance to provide more qualitative legal aid, as well as increasing civil society involvement in the process of implementation of reforms, – the speaker said.
According to Ruben Madsen, Ambassador of Denmark to Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia, Denmark's willingness to contribute financially to the process of institutional reforms in Ukraine is very logical and stems from the need to look at it in a wider context:
- We joined the project in 2015 and together with the Council of Europe assumed full responsibility for the implementation of a wide range of activities within the Project in close cooperation with Ukrainian beneficiaries. Thus, we strived to achieve the ambitious goals for the reform process in Ukraine. I’m highlighting, that the neighbouring countries of the European Union have always been regarded by Denmark as important strategic partners, and Ukraine is perhaps the most important among them. That is why we continue to be very energetically aimed at supporting peace and stability in Ukraine, improving public safety and access to justice.
Improving access to justice is also one of the key areas for the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine. Ivanna Smachylo underlined that during the last five years, fundamental changes have been made every year to improve the availability and quality of FLA.
- I can hardly imagine that we could have achieved these results without the help of our international partners, assured the speaker.
Anzhela Stryzhevska also noted the sustained support of the reform by the Council of Europe and international experts.
- We all became participants of one of the largest justice sector reform projects. It would premature to think that we have a complete victory. But we've definitely achieved certain progress and will continue to follow the way of building public trust in prosecution service.
Summing up the results of the first part of the conference, Mårten Ehnberg expressed his gratitude to everyone present and all agents of change, who enabled Ukraine to move steadily towards reforms implementation:
- I am grateful for the professionalism that you demonstrate in your daily work, understanding the problems and finding ways to overcome them. The project is coming to an end, but the Organisation is ready, in accordance with the priorities of the Council of Europe Action Plan to Ukraine for 2018-2021, to provide further support to Ukraine in this area, he said.
The key issues discussed during the two plenary sessions included: PPS reform upon the adoption of the new legislation, the set-up of the prosecutorial self-governance and support bodies, pending legal reforms regarding the PPS, continued professional capacity enhancement of prosecutors and lawyers, as well as FLA institutional development and the role of the civil society in these reforms.
Particular attention was also paid to the independent external organisational assessment of the GPO of Ukraine.
- The main objective of the GPO evaluation project, which began in December 2018, was not the assessment itself, but the opportunity to discuss and develop a common vision of the current condition of the GPO. The evaluation aimed to take into account the views of various experts as well as the experience of different countries in order to make a transformation plan that would increase the efficiency and transparency of the institution's work, said Gennadii Chuprykov, Director of Forensic Services, PwC Ukraine.
The discussion was moderated by Andrii Kulikov, a journalist, media expert and chairman of the Journalistic Ethics Commission of Ukraine. At the end of each session, he gave the floor to the international experts and Council of Europe HQ representatives, in particular, Jeremy McBride, Barrister, Monckton Chambers (London), Peter van den Biggelaar, former CEO of the Dutch Legal Aid Board, Eric Swanidze, former Deputy Minister of Justice of Georgia, Camille Massey, Evaluation – Strategic planning – Change management expert (France), Ketevan Tskhomelidze and Geanina Munteanu, Representatives of the Department of the Execution of the Judgements of the ECHR. They commented on the key achievements and challenges of criminal justice reform and their compliance with the Council of Europe standards and European best practices.
Jeremy McBride, author of the book “European Convention on Human Rights and Criminal Procedure” which was translated into Ukrainian and published with the support of the Project, acknowledged the progress of the criminal justice reform in Ukraine:
- When the Project began, I had certain fears and understood all the challenges, but I saw the enthusiasm and the desire to act. And today I can recognize the progress and significant changes for the better.
The conference ended with the declaring of the parties' intentions to continue their support and cooperation on the way towards further progressive transformations.