A Ukrainian Anticorruption Court Is an Essential Step Toward the Rule of Law

Since the Maidan movement that overthrew the last Ukrainian government, Ukrainian anticorruption activists have demanded, among other reforms, the creation of a specialized anticorruption court. Many of Ukraine’s Western backers likewise consider the creation of such a court to be an essential step in addressing the country’s systemic corruption problem, and in recent months, protests have broken out on the street in support of the court. In what appears to be a major victory for the domestic and international advocates of a special anticorruption court, President Poroshenko agreed in principle to create such a court this past October—although the details will need to be worked out.

Not everyone is convinced that the creation of a specialized anticorruption court is as important as its backers think. In a thoughtful post last month, Helen articulated the skeptical view, arguing that the specialized anticorruption court will likely not live up to expectations, and that domestic and international actors are placing too much emphasis on the creation of this particular institution. But Helen both underestimates the importance of a specialized anticorruption court in the Ukrainian context, and is overly pessimistic about its prospects for effectiveness. That said, she is right to highlight how things could go awry if the creation of the specialized anticorruption court is not done right.

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No Silver Bullet: Why Ukrainian Anticorruption Activists Should Not Fixate on Creating a Specialized Anticorruption Court

Ukrainian civil society activists have been aggressively campaigning for the establishment of an independent anticorruption court (see, for example, here, here, and here), in which international donors and other partners would participate in the selection of judges. Until very recently, President Poroshenko had vigorously resisted this campaign, asserting that “all courts in the country should be anti-corruption,” and proposing instead to have an anticorruption chamber within the current court system as part of his judicial reform plan. Yet in a surprising turn of events, on October 4th President Poroshenko appeared to yield to the demand of activists and international pressure to create such a court.

Poroshenko’s flip-flop seems to be a major victory for anticorruption activists in Ukraine. Yet it might be too early to celebrate. As promising as it sounds, a specialized anticorruption court is unlikely to live up to Ukrainian activists’ expectations. In a country like Ukraine—an oligarchic democracy in which governmental power is not delineated clearly by the constitution or legal framework, the executive is not effectively checked by the judiciary, and businesses are entangled with politics—the creation of a new judicial body is unlikely to be a game-changer. Moreover, in focusing so much on the campaign to create a specialized anticorruption court, domestic and international activists may be diverting energy and resources from more important issues, such as reforming the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), strengthening the role of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and adopting more comprehensive political and economic reforms reduce the clout of the country’s oligarchs.

There are two main reasons that the proposed Ukrainian anticorruption court is unlikely to live up to activists’ expectations:

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When Should Countries Outsource Key Anticorruption Functions to Foreigners?

Partly because of previous work I’ve done (with Sofie Schütte of the U4 Centre) on specialized anticorruption courts, I recently had the opportunity to participate in some interesting discussions in Kiev about ongoing debates about the possible the creation of such a court for Ukraine. There’s much to say on this topic generally, but what most and surprised me about the discussions I was fortunate enough to attend was how much they focused on a specific proposal—advanced by certain influential members of the Ukrainian civil society community—for the international donor community to participate (indirectly but formally) in the selection of the judges to serve on this court. There are a few different proposals floating around, but I’ll focus on the version embraced by a draft law currently pending in the Ukrainian Parliament. Under this proposal, judges on the special anticorruption court would be chosen by a nine-member Judicial Selection Committee. Of these nine members, three would be appointed by the President, three would be appointed by the Parliament, and three would be selected by the international donor community. (Formally, the last three would be appointed by the Minister of Justice, but that’s a formality: According to the proposal, the Minister of Justice would be obligated to consult with the international donor community and to appoint the three individuals that they recommend.)

For some in the civil society community, this feature of the proposal is absolutely essential, and they fear that without a formal role for the international community in the judicial selection process, the anticorruption court will be a failure. Others feel equally passionately that formalizing a role for international donors in the selection of special court judges is deeply misguided, and will jeopardize (both politically and legally) the special court experiment. I don’t know nearly enough about Ukraine’s specific situation to have an informed view on this one way or the other. But the proposal seemed sufficiently novel and interesting to be worth contemplating more generally. After all, though to the best of my knowledge there’s no precedent for what the draft Ukrainian law proposes, it’s not unheard of for countries to “outsource” (for lack of a better term) aspects of the law enforcement apparatus that most countries most of the time would consider core functions of the state, particularly in the context of anticorruption or closely related matters. (Probably the best known example is CICIG in Guatemala, in which a UN-sponsored body, headed by a non-citizen, has substantial investigative—though not prosecutorial or adjudicative—powers.) Is this an approach that more countries should adopt—for their investigators, prosecutors, or even their courts?

Again, I don’t have a terribly strong or well-informed view on this question, so this isn’t one of those posts where I’m going to take an aggressive, argumentative stand. I’m still thinking this through myself. But I figured that since this question might be of interest to others as well, I’ll offer a few thoughts on the possible advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing some or all of a state’s core law enforcement functions. I’ll think about this mainly in the context of anticorruption, though many of the arguments would apply more generally.

Long story short: I can think of two big potential advantages for this sort of outsourcing, and four countervailing drawbacks. Continue reading

Specialized Anticorruption Courts: An Overview

I’m going to take a quick break from agonizing about the impending Trumpocalypse to share some news about a new U4 Issue Paper, which I coauthored with Sofie Schütte, on specialized anticorruption courts in countries around the world. (This paper builds on an earlier series of case studies.) Here’s the abstract:

Frustration with the capacity of the ordinary machinery of justice to deal adequately with corruption has prompted many countries to develop specialised anti-corruption institutions. While anti-corruption agencies with investigative and/or prosecutorial powers have attracted more attention, judicial specialisation is an increasingly common feature of national anti-corruption reform strategies. The most common argument for the creation of special anti-corruption courts is the need for greater efficiency in resolving corruption cases promptly and the associated need to signal to various domestic and international audiences that the country takes the fight against corruption seriously. In some countries, concerns about the ability of the ordinary courts to handle corruption cases impartially, and without being corrupted themselves, have also played an important role in the decision to create special anti-corruption courts. Existing specialised anti-corruption courts differ along a number of dimensions, including their size, their place in the judicial hierarchy, mechanisms for selection and removal of judges, the substantive scope of the courts’ jurisdiction, trial and appellate procedures, and their relationship with anti-corruption prosecutors. These institutional design choices imply a number of difficult trade-offs: while there are no definitive “best practices” for specialised anti-corruption courts, existing models and experience may provide some guidance to reformers considering similar institutions. They must decide whether such a court should adopt procedures that are substantially different from those of other criminal courts, and/or special provisions for the selection, removal, or working conditions of the anti-corruption court judges.

New Case Studies on Specialized Anticorruption Courts in Indonesia, the Philippines, Slovakia, and Uganda

As is well-known, many countries around the world–especially developing and transition countries–have established specialized anticorruption institutions with prosecutorial and/or investigative functions. These agencies have attracted a great deal of attention and analysis (including on the blog–see, for example, here, here, here, and here). Many countries have gone further, and established specialized courts (or special divisions of existing courts) to focus exclusively or substantially on corruption cases. These specialized anticorruption courts have gotten relatively less attention, but as proposals for such courts have become increasingly prominent in many countries, there is a growing need for close analysis of these institutions.

To meet this need, the U4 Anticorruption Resource Centre has a new project, under the direction of Senior Advisor Sofie Arjon Schutte, on specialized anticorruption courts (a project in which I have been fortunate enough to participate). The first set of publications to result from this project are a series of short case studies on four of the existing special courts, in a diverse set of countries: Indonesia, the Philippines, Slovakia and Uganda. Readers who are interested in this topic might want to click on the links. Also, in addition to these four country briefs, there’s a longer U4 paper in the pipeline (coauthored by Sofie and myself) that discusses and compares a larger set of special courts around the world. I’ll do a post announcing that as well, as soon as it’s ready. And if anyone out there has information and insights about any special courts in other countries, please feel free to send it!