The rationale behind the draft legislation in Ukraine aimed at the establishment of an Ethics Council to assist the process of election (appointment) of the High Council of Justice (HCJ) members is welcomed, as it intends to urgently address the previously raised issue of integrity and ethics of the HCJ. This is among the key conclusions of the urgent opinion prepared by the Venice Commission and by the Council of Europe’s Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law.
Establishment of judicial councils, in charge of judicial appointment, promotions and discipline, is an important element for the independence of the judicial system. A judicial reform which does not tackle the functioning of the HCJ and the integrity of its members is doomed to fail. The Venice Commission and the Directorate welcome the proposal to establish an Ethics Council for a period of six years to assist the bodies that elect (appoint) the members of the High Council of Justice in determining whether the applicants for the position of member of the HCJ and the current members of the HCJ meet the criteria of professional ethics and integrity. It is also welcomed that the composition of this Ethics Council builds on the Venice Commission’s earlier opinions, especially as concerns the participation of international experts. However, it is recommended to expressly limit the international participation in the Ethics Council to a single mandate of six years.
The Venice Commission and the Directorate deplore that draft law no. 5068 is a partial measure and does not provide for a holistic reform of the judiciary. Nonetheless, the Venice Commission and the Directorate are mindful of the urgency of the situation and acknowledge that the reforms should be undertaken to remedy these urgent problems.
In a separate joint urgent opinion published on 6 May the Venice Commission and the Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe welcome the reintroduction of the sanction of imprisonment in the Criminal Code for the most serious category of offences related to asset declarations, as well as the increased level of monetary fines. However, increasing the sanctions must be coupled with reinforcing the anti-corruption institutions and mechanisms.
The opinion was requested by the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada on 12 March 2021. It examines the draft Law of 27 January 2021 amending certain provisions of the Code of Administrative Offences (the CAO) and the Criminal Code (the CC) of Ukraine regarding the liability of public officials for inaccurate asset declarations.