Today, there’s much to be said for judicial reform, for the failure to relaunch judicial governance agencies and conduct a thorough qualification evaluation of judges.

But the specifics of the Ukrainian under-reform are that sometimes the wrong people are punished.

When in 2015 the judge of the Oktiabrskyi district court of Poltava Larysa Holnyk informed that she was offered a bribe for adjudication in the interests of the then-mayor Oleksandr Mamai, she did not realize the consequences. For five years after the incident, she would be haunted by both management and well-wishers.

“Why would you be asking for trouble? You’d rather be silent,” someone would say.

When Victor Fomin, a judge of the Melitopol District Court, went on a business trip to Kyiv in 2018, he did not know that he would remember this job for a long time. And not because of its effectiveness, since in less than a year, Fomin reviewed almost 900 criminal proceedings.

The fact is that the Solomianskyi district court of Kyiv, where Fomin was sent by the President, considered the NABU-SAPO cases before the High Anti-Corruption Court was created. And Victor Fomin, as an investigating judge, considered such cases. Among them is the “case of the Lviv Armor Vehicle Factory”, the “Odesa” airport, the possible withdrawal of billions of hryvnias in offshore sales of natural resources, the case of MPs and ministers.

“He was asking for trouble, he is too honest,” someone would say.

Somehow, it turned out that because of their integrity and honesty, both Holnyk and Fomin “asked for trouble”. Because she had reported gross misconduct and he was simply doing his job. But the most surprising thing is that they get the most pressure because of the body that actually has to protect them – the High Council of Justice.

This could be called a mistake or an accident if such complaints were not received systematically and regularly. And the Council also regularly took them up for consideration, seriously damaging the professional and personal lives of Holnyk and Fomin. So how do you maintain your reputation as a virtuous person when you are constantly threatened with disciplinary punishment? Not to mention professional growth.

Who complains and what are they complaining about? This is also rather curious.

For example, a recent complaint against Larysa Holnyk was reported due to the fact that she was attending a Transparency International Ukraine’s 5th Anniversary conference. The head of the Oktiabrskyi court of Poltava Olexandr Strukov indicated that she allegedly violated the rules of conduct.

In his opinion, attending a public event of an international anti-corruption organization denigrates the rank of a judge and undermines the authority of justice, in particular in matters of morality, honesty, incorruptibility, etc. The complainant also added that the subject of the conference “5 Years of Corruption Counteraction” does not coincide with the professional activity of a judge. Sure thing, how can a criminal judge be involved in anti-corruption investigations and bribery in general?

At the same time, Viktor Fomin was imposed the disciplinary punishment by the High Council of Justice for the transfer of the seized assets to the ARMA. It is a criminal proceeding regarding the possible embezzlement of almost 15 million UAH in the purchase of engines for the needs of the Armed Forces.

In appealing this case, Fomin went to the Supreme Court, which revoked the HCJ’s decision on this “violation”. But now there is another complaint pending before the Council regarding the failure to declare numerous assets by the judge from Kharkiv. This complaint against Fomin was filed from a fictitious address, with violation of the law. Did this stop anyone? No, the case was reopened.

It is obvious that the High Council of Justice, which should shape and maintain a high level of professionalism and integrity of judges, unfortunately, has become an instrument of pressure on independent and competent judges.

How many more judges who, not withstanding the pressure, seem to be or are not ready to report violations so as not to “be asking for trouble”? The question is open. How many judges, whose integrity was really worth checking out, still remain in their seats, despite even blatant violations? Another open question. However logical.

The High Council of Justice too often initiates numerous proceedings concerning the “severe” offenses of virtuous judges. At the same time, the Council turning a blind eye to the actual violations of the law by some members of the judicial corps continues to be striking and sometimes outrageous.

Article 1 of the Code of Judicial Ethics states: “The judge must be an example of the strict observance of the requirements and the rule of law.” Given these two stories, the words take on completely different colors and shades. This makes the need for real judicial reform even more acute.