“The best people die today on the battlefield not for tomorrow’s corruption but for a better and more ethical system” as one of the Ukrainian Presidents of the Court put it during a discussion on legal ethics. From 15-18 November, presidents of several courts in the Kyiv region and Vinnytsia visited the Netherlands to meet with experts and peers in Amsterdam and The Hague, in the framework of the Matra-project Judiciary and Society in Ukraine. The main aim of the study visit was to discuss procedural justice, ethics, core values and guidelines for the courts.
Despite the ongoing war, 15 presidents, vice presidents and heads of staff travelled from Ukraine to the Netherlands. While participants were obviously mindful of the current situation at home, they engaged proactively to show how motivated they are to work. The first day of the working visit immediately focused on a sensitive subject, ethics. Such a discussion can be confronting and difficult in any field, but it is necessary in the judiciary to ensure an independent and transparent court system. In the morning Dutch experts delved into the academic and practical perspectives in relation to ethical dilemmas and how this influences court performance.
After lunch, under the moderation of our project leader Esther de Rooij, an open discussion took place on ethics, corruption, and leadership with presidents from different courts in the Netherlands, highlighting how Ukraine does not stand alone in combatting corruption and dealing with difficult ethical dilemmas. The Ukrainian presidents reflected that the vetting procedure has been successful and that there is a newly created authority that deals with the fight against corruption. The Dutch colleagues emphasized that the presidents should set the example, to judge cases with a three headed panel and to be transparent. Eveline de Greeve specifically stressed the importance of perseverance, as Ukraine is on the right track, but that it will take time to on make ethical dilemmas a topic open to discussion. Feeling strengthened by their Dutch peers the Ukrainian participants voiced their appreciation for the openness and sincerity in the debate.
The following day the group travelled to The Hague to meet with representatives from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, exchanging insights on the current situation and the challenges it brings to the judiciary. After a discussion on developing guidelines for court procedures, the group moved in the afternoon to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands for a discussion with Ms. Dineke de Groot, President of the Supreme Court, on procedural justice and anti-corruption measures. Ample time was given for in-depth questions and answers from both sides on the challenges ethical dilemmas pose to the justices, but also the advantages of procedures and guidelines. During the closing of the session the President of the Supreme Court was presented with a ceramic ornament representing the resilience and resistance of the Ukrainian people during these trying times.
The final day of the working visit covered the functioning of the Court of Amsterdam, delving deeper into procedural elements and practical affairs. Board members of the Court of Amsterdam discussed how the court functions and the role of leadership within the management and application of justice. Insights were shared on the financial and executive organisation, and teamwork in the court, sparking diverse questions from the Heads of Staff from the Ukrainian courts. After a tour of the Court building closing speeches with words of thanks were given. During these speeches the presidents of the Ukrainian courts made their commitment to and motivation clear for procedural justice, combatting corruption, the importance of the discussions on ethics, and working on developing guidelines.
Moving forward the presidents, their heads of staff and judges within their courts will start working on drafting guidelines for court procedures, creating a sustainable set up for ongoing discussions on ethics and strengthening their financial and executive organisation. Overall, both experts and participants perceived the visit as fruitful and energising.