Top-5 main reasons why Ukrainians do not trust courts

by Vadym Valko, originally published by

The other day, the YouTube channel Open Court posted a video in which a grandfather, a participant in the lawsuit, travelled 500 kilometers to Kyiv for a hearing of the Northern Commercial Court of Appeal only to hear from a staff member: “Judge is on vacation, today’s meeting is cancelled, go back.”

This episode is a vivid illustration of why we do not trust the courts. After all, according to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center, the level of public distrust for the judiciary is almost the same as for the Russian propaganda media.

Although sometimes it doesn’t take much to increase that trust. And most interestingly, it does not require any additional funding, staff or a lot of free time.

For example, who prevented an assistant judge from simply informing this grandfather in advance that the judge was on leave and therefore did not need to go to the hearing. Or what is the difficulty for courts to systematically inform citizens on their official websites and social media pages about which of the judges is on leave, sick leave or training?

Instead, we have a situation where thousands of court hearings are cancelled every month, no one informs participants, journalists and free listeners about it, and they waste time and money on fruitless trips to court.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg of public distrust of the courts and judges. What are the main reasons?

1. In my opinion, the key thing is that it is often simply impossible to get justice in the courts. Almost every week the media show stories about arbitrary court decisions. It is almost impossible to get a truely legal decision, especially if the other party has a high position, money, influence or acquaintances.

For clarity, I will quote the brother of the head of the Kyiv District Administrative Court Yuriy Zontov, who was detained by NABU detectives while trying to obtain $ 100,000 for help with a court decision:

“In order for this to be “yes” (the party needs a positive decision. – Ed.). Two conditions are needed for this. Condition № 1: that the party does not come and does not bring something. Or, at least, it brings less than… And the second condition: he must be offered, then I go to him, and he offers me. The vector will probably be from 5 to 10. But this is provided that there is no one there at all. “

Here is another example. Late last year, the Canadian company TIU, which built a solar power plant in Nikopol 3 years ago, dismantled all equipment and left the city. The Canadians said they were the victims of a banal raider attack, and the company’s CEO commented on their decision to shut down production: “Ukraine’s justice system has failed to protect our investments. The last straw was how we were treated in the Ukrainian court. So we decided to leave the city. “

2. Very often, even in the absence of another influential party in a case, it is difficult to obtain a legal decision, because a judge demands a bribe simply to “expedite the proceedings” and not to keep the case in the courtroom for years. Fees are usually up to 10% of the amount of the claim, if the case concerns some assets or funds.

Although sometimes the amounts increase. For clarity, I will cite the words of one of the judges accused by anti-corruption authorities of receiving bribes: “10% is not enough, let’s say at least 25%.” This is official information from the case file. Interestingly, in the local judicial and legal community, this judge is called “Seryozha-One Quarter”.

3. There are also simply spineless judges who can make any decisions at the behest of the authorities, as Maidan judges did during the Revolution of Dignity when people were detained for nothing, deprived of their driver’s licenses or judges unjustifiably banned peaceful assemblies.

4. There is another, very important reason for distrust. It is the banal rudeness of judges and court staff when they literally make litigants and court visitors feel inferior. And the impression is that you did not come to court, but to some old housing office. Although in reality the court should be a regular service of the state. And if it is provided by unscrupulous and rude service workers, they should be dismissed.

But I want to end this text on a positive note. Personally, I am very fortunate that most of the meetings I attend as observer take place in the newly created High Anti-Corruption Court.

This court was established in 2019 with the participation of international experts who joined the assessment of the integrity of the candidates. The participation of internationals ensured unprecedented transparency and openness of the competition, adding credibility and credibility to its results and to the elected judges.

From my experience, I can say that in comparison with most other Kyiv courts, the attitude of judges and staff there to participants or free listeners is just compared as heaven and earth. This is the standard we should strive for, and I believe that sooner or later we will reach it in all Ukrainian courts.

Of course, we can say that salaries in the High Anti-Corruption Court are higher, so the court has the opportunity to choose the best candidates, even for the position of ordinary office worker. But should an employee’s salary at all affect whether or not he is rude to a court visitor?

Well, for now we have what we have. Although you should not be disappointed. Judicial reform has just begun. International experts with vast experience will take an active part in it. It is already giving the first results. And I’m sure it will only get better.

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