Is the Council of Judges able to ascertain the truth in case of inconvenient judge?
The Human Rights Information Center is closely monitoring the developments of the criminal proceedings in Cherkasy region, within which judge of the Court of Appeal Serhiy Bondarenko states he has experienced systematic pressure and interference in his work by head of the court to make him deliver unfair judgments.
What should be done for the Council of Judges of Ukraine to start to consider an appeal of a judge over pressure and interference in his work on part of the chiefs? The case of judge of the Court of Appeal if Cherkasy region Serhiy Bondarenko shows that media should start covering the events at least.
As a reminder, judge Serhiy Bondarenko said at the court hearing that Head of the Court Volodymyr Babenko demanded that he delivered unfair judgment in the case on the lawsuit filed by the company of Ukrainian tycoon Dmitry Firtash against teacher Oksana Yashan to evict her from the office premises. After Bondarenko had refused, he was subjected to systematic pressure.
Judge Bondarenko was deprived of his aide and was not appointed a new one, his memoranda and statements were not registered. He was made to violate the law for the trial participants to complain about him to the High Qualification Commission of Judges. Bondarenko’s car was set on fire and the unknown persons followed him near his apartment.
The members of the Council of Judges were unlikely to have big desire to deal with the case of their colleague from Cherkasy. However, as they say, “So it goes.”
Example of Serhiy Bondarenko is a clear demonstration of the level of “independence” of Ukrainian judges, Automaidan’s lawyer Roman Maselko argues. He reproaches the Council of Judges for unwillingness to consider the facts of pressure and interference in the work of judge Bondarenko.
“Nobody supports the judge who spoke against the pressure and gave specific documents. The Council keeps silence. Meanwhile, the Council of Judges was quick to support judge Oksana Tsarevych [judge of the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv, accused by the Prosecutor General’s Office of delivering unfair judgments in cases against Automaidan participants].
The decision of the Council’s general meeting urged the judges to resort with statements about pressure. What should be the reason for that? When the civil activists hold protest action near the court or when people in camouflage arrive? However, you do not mention the cases when there are phone calls from the Parliament. You heard the recording when Babenko says to the judge, ‘I tell you straight out, I got a call from the Parliament.’
Have you urged the judges to resort with statements immediately after phone calls at least once?” Roman Maselko asks.
Maselko urged the Council to offer Head of the Court of Appeal Volodymyr Babenko to pass a lie-detector test. If he states that the audio recording was falsified, may he prove that. Such steps would be directed at restoring the confidence, the lawyer says.
Valentyna Simonenko suggests that the ethics committee and the committee of guaranteeing the independence of judges conducts verification of the mentioned facts and interviews other colleagues of the complainant. She means those judges, who claim that Serhiy Bondarenko almost took off his pants in front of people, does not respect colleagues and insult court employees.
“Having made unlawful decision, you declared war against me and the whole staff,” Roman Maselko quotes voice of head of the Court Volodymyr Babenko and continues his appeal to the Council. “Dear judges, you now foster the principle of frank pledge. And now the Head of the Court exerts pressure on other judges. .. You should take measures to support the judges who state they have experienced pressure and oppose it.”
Judge of the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine Tetiana Chumachenko does not agree that the case of Serhiy Bondarenko testifies to systematic pressure in the entire judicial system of Ukraine, “We can not say that Bondarenko have made a stand against the system. He opposes the head of the court, who exerted pressure on him. Do not expect we will state that pressure is everywhere!“
“About 300 judges in various regions delivered almost one-type judgments concerning persecutions against the Automaidan activists. Is it not systemic nature?” Roman Maselko responds.
Finally, the Council made the decision to send Tetiana Chumachenko, judge of the Kyiv Court of Appeal Oleh Prysiazhniuk and judge of the Kyiv Economic Court of Appeal Mykhailo Novikov to Cherkasy to clarify the circumstances of interference in the work and pressure on the judge.
However, the question is: do they indeed have no conflict of interest?
After all, we hear about new possible corruption stories such as alienation of the premises of the Court of Appeal to build a residential building. Such deals cannot occur without participation of the Judicial Administration of Ukraine, whose head is elected by the same Council of Judges. As a result of these deals, the judges of the Court of Appeal crowd in small rooms, taxpayers have suffered losses, while the police do not see the components of crime.
So, can we expect judge Bondarenko to calmly perform his duties and functions?
I believe the case of this judge would not have been so dirty if the prosecutor’s office of Cherkasy region had conducted unbiased investigation. However, it proved again the necessity for taking away the investigative functions in such cases and setting up a State Bureau of Investigation as soon as possible.
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, this body, set up following the recommendations of the Council of Europe, should investigate the complaints about offenses committed by top officials, judges and law enforcement officers.
Establishment of such a body holds out the hope of effective mechanism to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and break the frank pledge.