Opinion: Russia’s Invasion Cannot Derail Ukraine’s Rule of Law Reform


Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP

   The extensive Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought about a profound shift in the global landscape, a rarity since the conclusion of the Cold War. This conflict has spurred the mobilization of the entire democratic world, underscoring the critical significance of a free and independent Ukraine for the future of global security.

As Russia's invasion reaches nearly two years, it becomes evident that the war's resolution will significantly influence the geopolitical climate for decades to come. Ukraine's role extends beyond ensuring stability in Eastern Europe; it holds a pivotal position in shaping global food and energy security. The ongoing conflict continues to have far-reaching implications on the world stage.

To confront the significant challenges ahead, Ukraine must be equipped to defend itself, necessitating substantial and sustained military assistance from its allies. While the immediate priority is fortifying security, ongoing reforms are equally crucial. Addressing corruption, fortifying national institutions, and solidifying democratic foundations remain essential for Ukraine's progress.

Among the reforms, judicial reform stands out as paramount. It is not an overstatement to assert that Ukraine's future prosperity and global standing hinge on the successful overhaul of its legal system. This recognition is evident in Kyiv's centers of power. Despite the ongoing Russian invasion, Ukraine is actively collaborating with international partners to implement robust rule of law reforms, underscoring the nation's commitment to building a resilient and just legal framework.

Judicial reform has consistently held a prominent position on the government's agenda since President Zelenskyy's initial election in 2019, and this commitment persists even amid the current wartime context. Significant progress has been made, meeting conditions outlined by the European Commission regarding the composition of the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges. Changes have also been implemented in the selection process for Constitutional Court judges, aligning with recommendations from the Venice Commission.

In a proactive measure against politically motivated appointments in the Ukrainian justice system, Ukraine has taken the unprecedented step of involving international partners in the selection of members for reformed judicial bodies. Selection committees have included the participation of senior British and American officials with extensive experience in the UK and US justice systems. Following extensive consultations and negotiations with the Venice Commission and the European Commission, legislation has been enacted to establish an advisory group of experts, including international representatives. This group is tasked with selecting potential judges for Ukraine's Constitutional Court.

Advancing Ukraine's unprecedented judicial reform agenda necessitates a delicate equilibrium between achieving substantive change, safeguarding the rights of every Ukrainian citizen, and upholding maximum transparency. Protocols are in place to keep Ukraine's international partners apprised of new initiatives, with the G7 group of ambassadors closely monitoring developments and providing positive assessments of recent progress.

Despite commendable strides during wartime, substantial challenges persist in Ukraine's judicial reform agenda. Notably, there are currently nearly two thousand vacant judge positions in Ukraine. It is of utmost importance to fill these vacancies with the most qualified candidates, subjecting them to rigorous and competitive selection procedures that thoroughly assess both their professionalism and integrity. The future resilience of Ukraine's judicial system hinges on these critical appointments.

As Ukrainians defend their statehood and national identity, they are keenly aware that they are crafting a new chapter in the country's history. Collaborating with an international coalition of partner countries, they are forging a new Ukraine that is swiftly establishing itself as a trusted and valued member of the democratic world. A steadfast commitment to establishing the rule of law is a fundamental cornerstone of this transformative process.

Despite the uniquely challenging circumstances posed by Russia's ongoing invasion, there is currently cause for cautious optimism regarding the ongoing reform of the Ukrainian legal system. Arguably, for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, all the necessary elements are now in place to achieve enduring judicial reform. This includes the requisite political will from both the president and parliament, active engagement from Ukrainian civil society, and expert support from the country's international partners. These factors collectively contribute to sustaining progress in reform, even amid Europe's most significant armed conflict since World War II.

Denys Maslov is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament affiliated with the Servant of the People party and serves as the head of the Ukrainian Parliament's Committee on Legal Policy. Oleksandr Vasiuk is also a member of the Ukrainian Parliament associated with the Servant of the People party and holds a position on the Ukrainian Parliament's Committee on Legal Policy.