Council of Judges suggests ‘letting go’ conflict with inconvenient Cherkasy court judge

Дата: 14 February 2016 Автор: Margarita Tarasova
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Chair of the Council of Judges Valentyna Symonenko suggests “letting go” the conflict between Head of the Court of Appeal of Cherkasy region Volodymyr Babenko and judge of that court Serhiy Bondarenko.

Last year, the latter stated that the Head of the Court had demanded that he delivered unlawful judgments in some cases. When Bondarenko refused to do so, he was subjected to systematic pressure, threats and disruption of his work. The car of the judge was set on fire and the unknown persons followed him near the apartment. He is still working without an assistant in the court.

The majority of the Court employees supports the Head of the Court, and this fact also shows the organization of work in the Court and this situation in general. It would be a wise decision for Bondarenko, Babenko and the NGOs to let go this situation psychologically. If Bondarenko has some problems with maintenance, it is one thing. If Babenko does not like Bondarenko for some reasons, then he, as the Head of the Court, should give up these feelings and behave adequately. Bondarenko should also behave decently as a judge of this court, who represents the judicial power,” Valentyna Symonenko said to the Human Rights Information Center correspondent.

The Chair of the Council of Judges believes that cooperation of judge Serhiy Bondarenko with the public is pressure and describes it as sign of violation of the judge’s ethics.

Exerting pressure on the head of the court or other third persons is a sign of violation of ethics. It was inappropriate to use the third persons and pressure, including that of the NGOs, to settle certain matters. Bondarenko believes that this was a desperate measure. Perhaps, it was because there was not always an adequate response to his appeal from the Head of the Court,” the Chair of the Council of Judges of Ukraine noted.

As an example, she cited the situation when the assistant judge had not been given the computer for work. This problem must be addressed at the meeting of the judges.

We are trying to convey to the council of judges that they should be blamed for the fact that the situation ran out of control. However, in any case, the judge should be reasonable in his actions. Is the failure to provide a computer worth the scandal in Ukraine and the damaged image of the judiciary in this city?” Valentyna Symonenko wondered.

A judge should behave decently and politely in any case, even in case of pressure. The Head of the Court, who spoke to the media and accused Bondarenko and all judges of mental illness, also violated ethics. A systemic approach to this situation shows that all the participants acted not decently,” the Chair of the Council of Judges of Ukraine said.

She informed that the Council of Judges set up a new working group on February 4 to comprehensively check the work of the Court of Appeal of Cherkasy region. The Head of the Court expects the commission to visit the Court late March or April, as the judges, for example, of the first instance, plan their work for two or three months in advance.

The Human Rights Information Center asked Roman Maselko, the lawyer of Cherkasy judge, whether it is possible to “let the situation go”?

Roman Maselko: It is not simply impossible, such a proposal outrages to the very roots of being. What does it mean to let the situation go? This situation reveals a systemic problem in the courts. And the entire Ukraine, indeed, knows about it already.

It showed not only the organizational problem. It showed how things are settled in the courts, how the heads of court put pressure on other judges. This problem should be immediately settled, not let go. The whole society expects that such actions will be terminated.

What kind of trust can we talk about if the body, which is primarily responsible for ensuring the independence of the judges, for the protection of their rights, for the solution to their conflicts, says: “Let us forget about it?” Is it the settlement of the problem? It is silencing, preservation and maintenance of the status quo. It is avoiding responsibility, performing of functions by the Chair of the Council of Judges and the Council in general, as well as tolerating, supporting the actions committed by the head of the court.

Thus, the Council of Judges of Ukraine makes the judges solve their problems on their own. In addition, it makes clear that even if the pressure on courts becomes known to the public, even if the judge applies to the Council of Judges, then we will delay this matter, put it off and then will forget about it not to add fuel to the fire so that everything could remain as it was.

I believe that this position of the Chair of the Council of Judges should be considered and assessed separately. I would raise the question of no confidence in the Chair of the Council of Judges after such statements.

The Council of Judges made the message that now they would collect the complaints of judges about the pressure and consider each of them separately. And what happens? They have recorded the signs of interference with the work of the judge, and now they suggest forgetting about it. Where is a specific solution to the problem, the punishment of those responsible and the real actions aimed at: a) the protection of the judge, the victim of such an impact; b) prevention of similar events in the future? I understand that the powers of the Council of Judges are limited, but the actual powers of the Council of Judges are primarily the discussion of such issues and creation of the mechanisms to address them. At least there must be support for the right actions and condemnation of the wrong actions. In this case, the Council actually supports the criminal actions.

Mykola Mirnyj: How does it happen, in your opinion?

Roman Maselko: It is a frank pledge, the same principles existing for decades, when all internal problems and shameful phenomena have been “hushed up” and any release of negative information has been blocked. In this case, Valentyna Symonenko confirmed precisely this way of thinking. The only thing, if it was possible earlier, now it will hardly succeed taking into account the public attention to this issue and the issue of justice.

However, the Chair of the Council of Judges, being aware of the attention to this case, of the fact that the whole of Ukraine is following, remains in her old paradigm and tries to solve the problem inside the system. The judges have always been non-public, it’s a fact. Their first desire is to leave everything inside the system since the debris cannot be taken out.

The Council of Judges has already made a decision on the situation in this court. It is the position of silencing. At the same time, I stress that it is not a problem with a computer or an assistant. This is the problem of a systematic pressure on the judges with the objective to commit serious crimes – delivering of knowingly unlawful judgments. Therefore, silencing of these facts is a crime in itself.

Valentyna Symonenko is likely to have a personal interest in this situation. I do not see any other. The mentality is one thing, but it would be reasonable in this situation to solve the problem in this court publicly and harshly.

If they condemned the head of the court, made him to resign or, for example, showed with their actions that the pressure on the judges was not encouraged, promoted a criminal case and were regularly interested in what was happening there, they would confirm that they fought for the cleansing of the judiciary. If the Chair does not do this, then, perhaps, she has a personal interest. All this together has a very negative impact on the credibility of the judiciary.

Prior to this interview with Valentyna Symonenko, I had a hope and a certain trust in the Council of Judges and even trust in the Chair of the Council of Judges. But now I see only the imitation of action and fraud with the expectation that all will be forgotten over some time.

Mykola Mirnyj: Can Serhiy Bondarenko and Volodymyr Babenko work in one court, in your opinion?

Roman Masleko: Of course, they can work and do work. However, Babenko has the powers and the ability to use them to harm judge Bondarenko while the judge does not have the adequate protection mechanisms. Bondarenko would have abandoned everything long since, but now the activists ask him to bring the matter to an end, and he feels the moral duty. It is very difficult to bear it, but he bears it and we are very grateful to Mr. Bondarenko for his courageous stand.

Besides, Babenko, in this case, has neither moral nor legal right to be judge or head of the court. I believe he discredits the entire judicial system. The expert examination of the Interior Ministry proved the originality of the audio record in which the head of the court exerts pressure on the judge. Then there was a briefing at which Volodymyr Babenko said that judge Bondarenko was mentally ill. Then there was the meeting of judges at which Babenko said that Bondarenko should apologize and withdraw his applications to the police in order to solve the problem. Later, during my speech at the Congress of Judges, he called me a bandit. Such actions of Babenko and actual support for him from many judges and the Council of Judges undermine already disputable credibility of the entire judicial system.

By the way, the Council of Judges set up a special commission to check the situation in this court. However, it was dissolved in December and restored only after the inquiry of Automaidan whether the decision on inspection of the work of this court was enforced. If the application had not been filed, the Council of Judges might do nothing.

According to my information, it was restored with a great fight. Many judges in the Council opposed that. The previous Commission failed to gather and did not fulfill the tasks assigned to it. So, how can judge Bondarenko be sure of the protection and work in the court presided over by such a person?

Mykola Mirnyj: Has judge Serhiy Bondarenko sought your legal aid as of the Automaidan lawyer?

Roman Masleko: Bondarenko has addressed neither me nor Automaidan. On the contrary, I found him. I was looking for the judges who might have information about the pressure on the judges during Euromaidan and could give evidence. I found out about him from the news on the Human Rights Information Center website. The journalist of the Center was at a public hearing in the Kirovohrad region, where judge Bondarenko told about the pressure and disorganization on the part of the court senior management. I realized that this judge could be the judge I’m looking for, who should be supported and this judge could be an example for others.

I talked to a journalist, who was present at that court hearing. He gave me the phone number of the judge’s lawyer. Then, I reached the judge himself. I asked him to send me all the documents, because it was important to understand it was not purely internal squabbles, internal conflict. When I studied all the documents, I realized that this was a case of systemic problems in the judiciary, and Bondarenko was 100% right. Then I and Automaidan went to that court.

We are very grateful to Bondarenko that he has not kept silence as basically all judges do and adheres to the judicial ethics as well. As for me, he’s doing exactly what society expects from the judges. He reveals shameful facts, helps the investigation to make judge act in accordance with the law and to hold liable those responsible for the pressure on judges. The most important thing is that he delivers lawful judgments and defies pressure.

Mykola Mirnyj: Serhiy Bondarenko appealed to Serhiy Kaplin, MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, and of the Council of Judges accuses him that he does not oppose the pressure on his own but resorts to the third parties. Does it violate the ethics of a judge and can a judge seek protection from other people?

Roman Maselko: Yes, I’ve heard this question from the members of the Council of Judges. It seems to me that the ethics of the judge and the law are violated not by judge Bondarenko, but by the person who asks this question. This is absurd. The judge is also a citizen, as well as other people are. So he has the right to use all legal means to defend his rights. Moreover, he first tried to solve it internally.

The judge attached the recording, which reveals the pressure exerted by head of the Court Volodymyr Babenko, to the application filed to the Council of Judges and the prosecutor’s office. It had been circulating for six months in the official bodies before it became known to the public. However, it was not assessed properly during that time. Even the expert examination was not conducted.

And only when the situation was generally out of control, when he began to fear for his life and property, then he began to resort to MPs as an ordinary citizen and a judge who knows his rights.

Such allegations again evidence the actions that are not aimed at settlement of the problem, at making judges realize they are really protected and can use all the tools for the protection defined by law. On the contrary, all the judges in Ukraine are sent a message: if you’re a judge, you are a hostage, we can say, of a mafia structure. And when you release internal problems (especially with a member of the mafia) beyond this mafia-like structure, the mafia will certainly find you and punish.

Mykola Mirnyj: At what stage the criminal proceedings over pressure on the judge and arson attack on his car are now?

Roman Maselko: As for the arson attack on the car, there is no information at all. It is unclear whether the investigation is moving. The investigation does not give access to the case files.

As for the proceedings over the pressure on the judge, which is being investigated by the Prosecutor General’s Office, there is a small progress. But it seems that it is being stone-walled.

For example, there is still no expert examination of the audio recording, ordered by our prosecutor’s office. Our examination was conducted in July. Their examination was conducted, it seems to me, but it is unclear whether there were the changes in the recording. We asked the expert commission with the participation of several experts. However, this examination has not been carried out for about four months already.

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