The Congress of Judges on Jan. 12 appointed eight members of the High Council of Justice, the judiciary's highest governing body.
Most of the new members are controversial and violate ethics and integrity standards, while some have links to Russia, according to legal think-tank DEJURE and other civic watchdogs. They have denied the accusations of wrongdoing.
"The judges have chosen the worst among the 16 candidates nominated by the Ethics Council and demonstrated that they are not prepared to choose real agents of change in the judiciary," DEJURE said on Facebook.
The silver lining is that the appointment of the members allows the High Council of Justice to have a quorum, and it can now start functioning again. The High Council of Justice has not functioned since February 2022, when most of its members resigned amid judicial reform.
The council's function is to hire, fire and punish judges.
There are alleged violations in the asset declarations of newly-appointed High Council of Justice members Alla Kotelevets, Yulia Bokova, Oleksandr Sasevych, Grygory Usyk, Olha Popikova, Tetiana Bondarenko, and Serhiy Burlakov, according to DEJURE.
Some of the newly-elected High Council of Justice members also have links to Russia.
Burlakov and his relatives have regularly visited Russia after it annexed Crimea and invaded the Donbas in 2014, DEJURE said. Burlakov also has links to Oleksandr Feldman, a pro-Russian lawmaker and businessman based in Kharkiv.
Bokova and her relatives have regularly visited Crimea since it was annexed by Russia in 2014, while Bondarenko's brother is a Russian citizen, and her sister regularly visits Russia, DEJURE reported.
There are also other alleged wrongdoings indicated by DEJURE.
Bondarenko and another new council member, Olena Kovbiy, have issued court rulings without being present at their courts, which may indicate a violation.
In 2012 the High Qualification Commission of Judges recommended firing Kotelevets for violating her oath as a judge but she has not been fired since then.
Sasevych, along with other judges, illegally interfered in a meeting of the Congress of Judges to ensure the selection of tainted High Council of Justice members in 2018, according to the Bihus.info investigative journalism project.
The controversial candidates for the High Council of Justice approved by the Congress of Judges had been greenlighted by the Ethics Council, a panel that includes foreign experts.
Ukraine’s leading anti-corruption watchdogs issued a statement in June saying that the Ethics Council had undermined trust in the process by approving tainted candidates for High Council of Justice jobs and vetoing an anti-corruption crusader.
The watchdogs also lambasted the Ethics Council for destroying transparency. The council has banned broadcasts of its interviews with candidates, citing alleged security risks due to the ongoing Russian invasion.
The bill regulates the selection of Constitutional Court judges.
It has been criticized by Ukraine’s civil society and the West because it fails to give foreign experts a crucial role in assessing the integrity of candidates for Constitutional Court jobs. As a result, the President's Office will be able to handpick loyalists and fully control the Constitutional Court, according to legal experts and anti-corruption activists.