The judges in turn contest their dismissals before the Supreme Court
KYIV – On March 29, the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Oleksandr Tupytsky, challenged his impeachment by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Supreme Court, according to a court file.
The sixth president of post-Soviet Ukraine had, two days earlier, revoked Tupytsky’s appointment to the court by quashing a presidential decree that his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, had signed on September 17, 2013.
Signing the decree, Zelenskyy said that some judges “pose a threat to the independence of the state and national security of Ukraine”.
Another judge of the Constitutional Court, Oleksandr Kasminin, had his appointment by the former president also revoked. Subsequently, he also challenged his eviction to the Supreme Court.
Following the 2014 pro-democracy Revolution of Dignity, Yanukovych stepped down and fled to Russia. He was convicted of treason in absentia in 2019 for aiding and abetting “a war of aggression” by Russia, which forcibly seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and secretly invaded both easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in a war that still rages and which has killed nearly 14,000 people.
“These persons [two judges] can go on a well-deserved vacation, ”Zelenskyy said in a separate statement. He added that all of Yanukovych’s decrees are audited.
The expelled chief justice, Mr. Tupytsky, called the presidential decree “illegal and unconstitutional” and the court declared the president’s actions “legally null and void”.
The Ukrainian constitution states that presidents can revoke previous decrees. It also states that Constitutional Court judges can be removed by a two-thirds vote of the court judges in specific cases, such as being convicted of a crime or health problems. They are appointed for a term of nine years. The Constitution also does not give the president the right to annul the appointments of judges to the Constitutional Court.
Mr Zelenskyy previously suspended the chief justice for two months in December in another controversial executive order. This suspension was extended for another month before Mr Tupytsky’s appointment was finally revoked.
Guards have since barred the ousted judge from entering the Constitutional Court and it is not clear whether he is still receiving a salary. The court’s official website has been offline since March 27, and numerous phone calls with its press service have gone unanswered.
However, the court’s official Facebook page is still up and running, although it is not clear who is responsible for the post on the social media site.
His most recent March 29 message indicates that Mr. Tupytsky has called for a special plenary session to meet in court on April 12 to “consider the matter” of his layoffs and Mr. Kasminin.
The executive and the judiciary clashed in late October after the Constitutional Court ruled that several provisions of anti-corruption legislation were unconstitutional.
More specifically, the provisions concerned the declaration of assets of officials, including judges, public and criminal liability for filing false or inaccurate income statements.
These arrangements have since been reinstated following a public backlash and inducements from Western supporters in Kiev who insisted on improving the rule of law in the country as a condition for additional financial aid and loans. .
In particular, installing a robust anti-graft architecture is a prerequisite for unlocking the current Washington-based International Monetary Fund’s $ 5 billion loan program.
At the time of the Constitutional Court’s vote on the legal provisions at the end of October, three of the 18 seats in the tribunal’s college were vacant.
An investigation by “Schemes: Corruption in Details”, a joint reporting project by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Ukrainian Public Television (UA: Pershiy), found that 13 of the 15 sitting judges had recused themselves on voting day on “Doubts about their own impartiality and objectivity due to a possible conflict of interest.”
On the day of the October 27 vote, Mr. Tupytsky was among the recusing judges. At the time, he was under investigation for failing to report property he owns in Russian-occupied Crimea.
The National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAZK), which examines the asset declarations of civil servants, has already produced two reports on Mr. Tupytsky. They were both filed in February and relate to Mr. Tupytsky canceling a Constitutional Court hearing on March 26 to review the National Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into his alleged misconduct.
However, the behind closed doors judges voted to dismiss their own challenges, after which they voted on the provisions of the anti-corruption laws, “Schemes” reported.
National surveys consistently show that the judiciary is one of the least reliable Ukrainian institutions. A poll conducted in October-November by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center found that 75% of Ukrainians do not trust the courts.
The head of the NAZK, Oleksandr Novikov, wrote a report on “failure to report a genuine conflict of interest”.
In an interview with Interfax published on March 31, Sarah Langenkamp, director of international anti-drug and law enforcement cooperation at the US Embassy in Ukraine, said the reform of the Constitutional Court was a reform priority for the country.
“As we have seen, when the CCU declared the national register of property and income declarations invalid in October, there was a constant threat that influential groups with narrow interests would use the CCU to repeal important reforms for the Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic direction, “she said.
Mr Tupytsky’s dismissal deserves “conditional support,” Adrian Karatnycky, a non-resident senior researcher at Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, wrote on Facebook.
He added: “The upper echelons of the Ukrainian judicial system are completely corrupt and need a judicial purge which should also have taken place at the time of the collapse of communism.”