The latest judicial reform in Ukraine was effected through the On Judicial System and the Status of Judges Act of Ukraine which came into force on 30 July 2010 and provides for numerous amendments to Ukrainian procedural law. In particular, the amendments are aimed at making court proceedings less time consuming and more unified.

General Characteristics of the Judicial System

There are five types of court proceedings in Ukraine: (1) criminal, (2) commercial, (3) civil, (4) administrative and (5) constitutional, which are conducted in accordance with the Criminal Procedural Code (adopted in 1960), the Commercial Procedural Code (1991), the Civil Procedural Code (2004), the Administrative Proceedings Code (2005) and the On the Constitutional Court of Ukraine Act of Ukraine (1996). Constitutional proceedings are a special type of proceedings conducted by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine in respect of, particularly, the constitutionality of the acts of the highest state bodies of Ukraine. The recent reform of the judicial system has not affected Ukrainian constitutional proceedings.

Changes to Structure of Court System

Before the reform in practice the judicial system worked as follows. Criminal and civil cases were heard by general courts. Criminal and civil court proceedings included three stages (first instance court consideration, consideration by the court of appeals and review by the Supreme Court of Ukraine).

The above was not the case when it came to administrative and cominmercial proceedings, where before appealing to the Supreme Court of Ukraine the parties appealed to the Superior Commercial Court of Ukraine or the Superior Administrative Court of Ukraine, respectively. Therefore, in practice administrative and commercial proceedings included four stages. Pursuant to the On Judicial System and the Status of Judges Act of Ukraine a third specialized superior court — the Superior Court of Ukraine on Civil and Criminal Matters was established. Thus, the number of stages in criminal, commercial, civil and administrative proceedings was finally equalized.

Pursuant to the Act the role of the Supreme Court of Ukraine is now limited to deciding issues where superior specialized courts applied the same rule to the same factual circumstances in a different manner. The Act endowed the judgments of the Supreme Court of Ukraine with generally binding force not only upon the courts of all types and levels, but also upon all state authorities, legal entities and individuals. Thus, the judicial reform implemented certain elements of a precedent legal system to the Ukrainian system, which used to be predominantly continental.

Unification of Proceedings, Attempt to Make Court Proceeding Less Time Consuming

Before the recent judicial reform, there were many significant as well as minor differences in different types of proceedings (such as different procedure of filing the appeals, different service procedures, etc), which did not make the life of a litigator easier, though they were not the result of any deliberate policy but attributable comin the main to the period of adopting and amending a particular procedural code. Due to the above, the Ukrainian judicial system was often criticized for having a somewhat non-systematic character. Thus, an important issue, which the Act aimed to resolve, is reasonable unification of various types of proceedings.

The judicial system provoked even more criticism due to the unreasonably long duration of court proceedings of any type. On average it used to take at least a year to obtain a binding judgement, which is final and without appeal. Therefore, the Act also made an attempt at resolving this issue.

First, the Act introduced strict time limits, within which a court is obliged to conduct every stage of the proceedings. The Act filled in certain gaps in procedural rules of different types of proceedings as well as shortened (on average by half) those procedural terms that were specified by the procedural codes.

Furthermore, the Act deprives the courts of appeals of the power to refer a case for new consideration to a court of first instance. Pursuant to the Act, should the court of appeals decide to cancel a decision adopted by a court of first instance, it should consider the case on merits and deliver a new judgment. Such an innovation should help to eliminate numerous transfers of cases back and forth between the court of first instance and the court of appeals, which used to happen once in a while.

The Act also purports to deprive the parties of the opportunity to delay the proceedings through appealing rulings on procedural matters. Under the Act the right of parties to appeal against the above rulings remains intact. However, the court may in most cases notwithstanding such an appeal continue the consideration of the case on its merits by sending the appeal and the copies of the case file to the court of appeals.

Changes in Administrative Proceedings

The rules on administrative proceedings, whose proceedings tend to be the most time consuming underwent, pursuant to the Act, even more drastic changes. Specifically, the Act implemented such an innovation as "summary proceedings." Such summary proceedings, in accordance with the Act, may take no more than seven days from the commencement thereof; however, the subject matter of the cases that may be heard within summary proceedings is strictly limited.

Furthermore, the Act imposed on administrative courts of first instance an obligation to provide interested parties with forms of the administrative statements of claim, in order to make it easier for lay persons to commence administrative proceedings.

Moreover, the Act empowered courts to specify a time limit, within which the state body or an official must report on their compliance with the court decision. Should the state body or an official fail to report its compliance, the court may impose a penalty in the amount of 100 to 300 minimum wages (approximately USD 11,000 — 33,000 as of now) on the official or head of the state body in question. The amount of penalty shall be distributed between the state budget and the party that suffered as the result of the non-compliance by the official or the state body in equal parts. Should the official or head of the state body fail to pay the penalty or to comply with the court decision, a new penalty may be imposed as well as a fine for the delay penalty.

The Act also addresses such matter as service of the parties to the administrative proceedings. Specifically, the Act provides that parties, including in particular state bodies and officials, may be served a court hearing by facsimile, electronic (e-mail) or telephone notification.

Electronic System of Documents Circulation and of Distribution of Cases among Judges

The On Judicial System and the Status of Judges Act of Ukraine also provides for implementation of an electronic system of documents circulation, which would allow any interested party to obtain any procedural document in a convenient and prompt way. Furthermore, the distribution of cases among judges would be done at random and would be conducted by an inherently impartial computer program. Such an innovation should limit the risk of possible extrajudicial influence on the rendering of justice.


In our opinion, adoption of the Act should result in long awaited unification and systematization of the Ukrainian judicial system. Furthermore, the Act contains many progressive technical innovations, which should facilitate more efficient serving of justice.

At the same time there are two main concerns with respect to the strict time limits implemented by the Act. First, due to the courts being overloaded with cases it is doubtful that it would be possible for the courts to stick to the strict time limits. Second, if the courts do, in fact, manage to conduct legal proceedings in a timely manner as provided by the amended procedural codes, there is a concern that such time limits would be detrimental to the quality of justice. It seems that establishing all important facts of a case and applying the law properly should be a court's first and foremost concern. While time efficiency is also important, in some cases a court should, upon the request or approval of the parties, in reasonable limits be free to sacrifice quick justice for the sake of proper justice.

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