STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Ukraine trampled the right to a fair trial when it dismissed several Constitutional Court judges after the 2014 revolution, Europe’s top rights court ruled Thursday.
Vyacheslav Ovcharenko and Mykhaylo Kolos were removed from the Ukrainian judiciary by an act of parliament nearly a decade ago in the culmination of civil unrest known as the Maidan Uprising or Euromaidan, taking the name of the Kyiv's Independence Square or Maidan Nezalezhnosti where protesters had set up camp.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday, however, that the ongoing uprising “did not justify the failure by the authorities to respect the basic convention requirements of lawfulness.”
Countries must have a “clear and foreseeable legal framework concerning judicial immunity and judicial accountability for the purposes of ensuring judicial independence,” the seven-judge panel wrote, underlining the importance of rule of law and impartially in the judicial system.
Citing a “lack of clarity and detailed explanations” concerning Vyacheslav and Kolos' terminations, the Fifth Section said Ukraine failed to meet those standards.
Euromaidan had taken hold of Ukraine in 2013 after then-President Viktor Yanukovych declined to sign a free trade deal with the European Union, a move widely seen as a pro-Russia. Yanukovych was forced to flee Kyiv on Feb. 21, 2014, after anti-government protests occupied government buildings. The next day, Ukrainian parliament voted to remove him from office.
Ukraine lawmakers passed Resolution 775-VII soon thereafter, stripping Ovcharenko, Kolos and three others of their offices at the Constitutional Court. The group had faced a similar attempt in 2010 following accusations of corruption.
Ovcharenko, the court's chairperson, was widely seen as an ally of Yanukovych and served as the chair of a local court when documents regarding Yanukovych’s previous criminal convictions disappeared. Ovcharenko blamed lax security for the breach.
The pair complained to the Strasbourg-based court, arguing their dismissal violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The 1953 treaty protects the civil and political rights of Europeans.
They argued their termination was a reprisal for a 2010 ruling in which the Constitutional Court amended Ukraine's Constitution to shift power away from the parliament — even though the Constitution forbade judges from being punished for their judicial decisions. Kyiv argued the dismissal was lawful and that, in light of the uprising, it was important for the government to be seen as upholding the public’s will.
Last year, the ECHR sided with a former judge who was also dismissed from Ukraine's Supreme Court after the revolution. Igor Samsin was dismissed from his position in October 2014 with the passage of the Government Cleansing Act, which targeted civil servants appointed by Yanukovych’s government. The rights court found there was an “absence of any evidence of specific known acts of misconduct on the applicant’s part,” and said the entire piece of legislation violated the convention.
Current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also had an antagonistic relationship with the Constitutional Court. After the court overturned much of the 2014-era anti-corruption legislation, Zelenskyy suspended the court's chairperson, Oleksandr Tupytskyi, and ultimately revoked his appointment in 2021. Ukraine's Supreme Court blocked this move, as well as the dismissal of another judge, however, finding that the Constitutional Court alone can dismiss its members.
Tupytskyi fled the country after Russia’s full-scale invasion last year and is thought to be in Austria. Kyiv has issued an arrest warrant for him.
Both Ovcharenko and Kolos asked the court to award them 50,000 euros ($53,000), but Thursday's ruling denies compensation, saying the ex-judges failed to substantiate their claims.
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