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General Overview of Ukrainian Judicial System
The principles of ensuring justice are declared in the Constitution of Ukraine. The main principles are ensuring justice exclusively via the courts and inadmissibility of delegating the functions of courts, as well as of appropriation of their functions by other bodies or officials; extension of jurisdiction of courts for any legal dispute and any criminal charge; the binding nature of judicial decisions on the whole territory of Ukraine.
Today, Ukraine is still on the fringes of judicial reform, whose main purpose is increasing the efficiency of the judicial process, combatting corruption in the court room and creating an independent judicial system.
The Law of Ukraine “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges” defines that in Ukraine justice is delivered exclusively by courts. Courts specialize in civil, criminal, economic, administrative, and administrative offenses. In cases determined by law, as well as by the decision of the assembly of judges of the relevant court, specialization of courts may be introduced for consideration of specific categories of cases.
Ukraine has a three-level system of justice. That is, local courts and the Supreme Court of Ukraine being the highest court of Ukraine’s judicial system and not only delivering justice, but also performing an important task of ensuring the uniform application of the rules of law by courts of different specializations.
Local courts of first instance are the most numerous. Local general courts are district courts formed in one or several districts or districts in cities, or in a city, or in a district (s), and city (cities). Local economic courts are district economic courts. Local administrative courts are district administrative courts and other courts defined by procedural law. Courts of first instance decide on the merits of the case, for which cause they are endowed with the right to establish the factual findings of a case by assessment of evidence collected in a case at own inner conviction. Judgements made by local courts, as a rule, come into force after the termination of the term for the appeal or after review of the case by the court of appeal if the judgement was not canceled or modified as a result of review.
Consideration of a particular case by a court depends on the parties to the dispute and its nature and is governed, first and foremost, by the relevant codes of procedure (Civil Code of Procedure of Ukraine (2004), Economic Code of Procedure of Ukraine (1991), Code of Administrative Justice of Ukraine (2005), Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses (1984), Criminal Code of Procedure of Ukraine (2012)).
Economic courts generally resolve disputes arising from the conduct of economic activity, in particular, in the conclusion, modification, termination and execution of transactions in economic activity, disputes arising from corporate relations, relations connected with protection of economic competition, of transactions in stakes, shares, stocks, other corporate rights in legal entity, disputes regarding securities, rights of ownership or other property rights, bankruptcy, disputes regarding appeal of acts (decisions) of business entities and their bodies, officials in the sphere of organization and implementation of economic activities, cases on appeal against decisions of arbitration courts and other disputes between business entities.
The jurisdiction of administrative courts extends to cases in public law disputes, in particular, disputes of individuals or legal entities with subjects of authority regarding the appeal of its decisions (legal acts or individual acts), acts or omissions, disputes between subjects of authority regarding the exercise of their competence, disputes on the petition of the subject of authority in cases where the right to apply to a court for the resolution of a public dispute is granted to such a person by law, disputes regarding seizure of property or coercive alienation of property for public needs or on grounds of social necessity, etc. However, the jurisdiction of administrative courts does not apply to cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which must be decided in the context of a criminal procedure and cases of imposing administrative fees, except for cases provided by law.
Local general courts consider civil, criminal, administrative cases, and cases involving administrative offenses. Cases arising from civil, land, labor, family, residential and other legal relations are considered in civil proceedings, except for cases which are considered in the procedure of other legal proceedings. The system of general courts is the most ramified, and they can be created in districts, cities, districts of cities.
Courts of second instance are courts of appeal. Courts of appeal for the consideration of civil and criminal cases and cases of administrative offenses are courts of appeal formed in appellate districts. Courts of appeal for consideration of economic cases, courts of appeal for the consideration of administrative cases are, respectively, the economic courts of appeal and appellate administrative courts of appeal formed in the respective appellate districts.
The functions of courts of appeal depend on the specialization of the court and the category of the case. As a general rule, the court of appeal reconsiders the case on the evidence it contains and additional evidence, and verifies the legality and sufficiency of the decision of the court of first instance within the framework of the arguments and the requirements of the appeal. The decision of the court of appeal comes into force from the moment it is announced.
The last and highest instance in the court system is the Supreme Court of Ukraine, which started its work on 15 December 2017, and is endowed with the right to review court decisions in the order of cassation proceedings. The Supreme Court consists of the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court, the Administrative Court of Cassation, the Economic Court of Cassation, the Criminal Court of Cassation, the Civil Court of Cassation.
Each court of cassation has chambers on separate categories of cases with regard to the specialization held by judges. The number and specialization of chambers are defined by the decision of the assembly of judges of the court of cassation in accordance with the procedure established by law. However, separate chambers must be created 1) in the Administrative Court of Cassation for consideration of cases regarding taxes, fees and other obligatory payments; protection of social rights; the election process and the referendum, as well as the protection of the political rights of citizens; 2) in the Economic Court of Cassation for consideration of bankruptcy cases; protection of intellectual property rights, as well as those related to antimonopoly and competition law; corporate disputes, corporate rights and securities.
The Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court, in cases determined by law, review court decisions in a cassation order in order to ensure the uniform application of the rules of law by courts; act as a court of appellate instance in cases considered by the Supreme Court as a court of first instance; analyze judicial statistics and study judicial practice, generalize court practice.
During the first year of its activity the Supreme Court of Ukraine removed a lot of impracticalities which existed in court practice, and formed hundreds of legal opinions aimed at ensuring the unity of court practice in Ukraine and the predictability of court decisions. One undeniable achievement made can be considered the rather active application by the Supreme Court of the principles of law during dispute resolution.
The Law of Ukraine “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges” provides for the functioning of highly specialized courts in Ukraine. In particular, on 29 September 2017 the High Court of Intellectual Property was formed, and the Law of Ukraine “On the Higher Anti-Corruption Court” was adopted on 7 June 2018. Now, the competition for judicial vacancies of both specialized courts is under way.
Procedural legislation amendments which were adopted on December 2017, significantly affected the course of justice. Courts are beginning to execute appropriate for themselves the role of arbiters and the process itself has gained real characteristics. In particular, procedural legislation is now imposing responsibility for the commission or non-commission of procedural actions directly on the participants of the process, and an increase in the seniority level of participants in a court case is ensured by the rules on the exercise of such activity exclusively by lawyers. On the other hand, courts are increasingly using new tools to respond to the abuse of rights by the parties, which should enhance the culture of litigation.
In addition, the implementation of “e-justice” has begun. The Council of Judges of Ukraine, together with the State Judicial Administration of Ukraine, is gradually implementing the Single Judicial Information and Telecommunication System into courts of all instances and jurisdictions for the submission of procedural documents and evidence in electronic form, summons and communications to the official e-mail addresses of participants in proceedings, etc.
The Constitutional Court of Ukraine acts as a body of constitutional jurisdiction, which ensures the supremacy of the Constitution of Ukraine, decides on compliance with the regulations contained in the Constitution of Ukraine, laws, other acts, international treaties signed by Ukraine, issues proposed for adoption at an all-Ukrainian referendum at the initiative of the people, carries out official interpretation of the Constitution of Ukraine and certain other functions. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine has a Grand Chamber, two senates and six colleges.