After Euromaidan, a new era began for Ukraine and its efforts at combating corruption. Ukrainians no longer wished to tolerate flagrant embezzlement and scheming that went without investigation, let alone court hearing.
We demanded action. We demanded solutions.
The NABU was the first. Then came the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. The tandem operated in different fields, but it still needed another extension. The third point of the anti-corruption triangle would be the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine. It would assess the collected evidence, assess the quality of prosecution and answer the final, most important question: are the ones being accused of corruption guilty or not?
The HACC was created as a response to the inability of an average judicial system to be impartial and professional in handling cases regarding corruption among high-ranking officials. High expectations were placed on the court in Ukraine and abroad – the operations of the institution are being monitored by international agencies since launch.
Ukraine is not the only state that has this special judicial body. Around 25 countries have similar institutions, and considering the fact that corruption transcends state borders, some experts advocate for the creation of an international anti-corruption court.
While we in Ukraine contemplate the necessity, effectiveness and verdict fairness of the court, abroad the HACC is being considered as something to be emulated.
Should we keep it? Is there an effectiveness to speak of?
Let’s break the question down into points.
The Anti-Corruption Сourt exists. It is active, it is functioning and it is performing its duties. That’s a plus. That’s a lot of work already done. The first year of this trial court saw the handling of 268 criminal cases featuring 535 defendants and 10847 appeals, statements and complaints. Its appeals chamber processed 1228 cases and materials, 13 verdict appeals and reviewed 4 verdicts against 5 defendants. This is data from August 21, 2020. How can you say the court does nothing?
There is a difference between what once was and what is now. We hope we have passed the point of no return. Even though some believe that funding this court is a waste of money or that its operations are unconstitutional (a lawsuit regarding that idea is soon to be processed by the CCU), it is obvious to me that each of the suspects in those corruption cases is very apprehensive about having their case heard in the HACC. The first year of an institution built practically from the ground up saw 16 verdicts. That is half the amount of those delivered by other courts through NABU-SAPO cooperation in the time before the establishment of HACC.
The existence of HACC makes the life of a prospective corruption practitioner very uncomfortable and expensive. The first year saw the Anti-Corruption Court’s coffers fill up by 765 million UAH in bail. In fact, it is the judges of the HACC that have posted the highest bails in the history of our country. This is no achievement, of course. Just a testament to the fact that members of the institution are tough and uncompromising when it comes to corruption. Over time, it may become a pretty good preventive measure for those seeking personal gain with public funds.
Where are the verdicts? There are verdicts! There are “guilty” verdicts, ”not guilty” verdicts and cases closed due to the statute of limitations. Some outcomes are tragic. The proceedings, however, are perfectly reasonable and within the boundaries of law. No extreme cases or serious scandals. Not to my knowledge, at least.
There are complaints and frustration among detectives, prosecutors, lawyers, case participants and members of the public, but there is no agreement as to what is the biggest issue with the court. That would mean the HACC is fairly balanced when it comes to handling internal problems. It lives. It lives like a human being: it makes mistakes, it draws conclusions and moves on. It is a court; it cannot possibly have universal approval.
There is cynicism among the public. Our country has a long-standing issue of mistrust towards courts. Even towards transparent and newly-established ones. That is something we simply have to work around, because it is a very commonplace attitude.
There are attempts to dismantle the institution. This is a challenge not only for the court, but for our society as a whole, and it has to be overcome with dignity. Many anti-corruption institutions passed it and continue to struggle with it. This is akin to an initiation rite, a rite of passage, and to be frank, in Ukraine such attacks are a confirmation of the fact that HACC has a purpose.
What comes next? A lot of work and many obstacles. They can be overcome. I have a couple of recommendations as to how.
Communicate. With all sides of the debate, on hostile platforms, without fearing those who do not understand you. They never will if you don’t speak up. Remain balanced and apolitical, do not construct walls. Explain, but do not excuse your actions.
Acknowledge your importance and unique status, but do not make maintaining it a goal. You exist within an ecosystem that is difficult and sometimes dangerous to navigate. You must learn to live within it and work effectively within it.
You must remember that being a judge is a great honor. You must be a role model that will instill trust into the judicial system among the public.
Crack the rock of corruption. You must process cases, listen to sides and deliver honest and impartial judgment. This is the only way to defeat corruption in our country.
The HACC may become an example for many countries still struggling with corruption. But it only will if it provides professional, reasonably quick, and impartial judgment.
Indeed, high expectations are placed on you, the judges of the HACC. Indeed, society is watching your every move and decision, but we know you can handle the workload, and we trust you to handle it. Deal with it. And have a happy holiday, of course.