A full-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine and imposition of martial law throughout the state affected the administration of justice by the courts of Ukraine. Thus, in connection with the Russian military aggression, the building of Borodyanka district court of Kyiv region was destroyed, the buildings of Kharkiv appellate court, Izium district court of Kharkiv region, Malyn district court of Zhytomyr region, Chernihiv appellate court, Commercial court of Chernihiv region and more than 30 other court buildings were significantly damaged.
In addition, the administration of justice has been suspended in the temporarily occupied territories of the country to prevent threats to the lives and health of judges and litigants.
However, even under martial law, a person’s constitutional right to judicial protection cannot be restricted. Therefore, we propose to consider how the judicial system of Ukraine works nowadays.
Changes in the territorial jurisdiction of cases
The Law of Ukraine “On legal regime of martial law” determines that if it is impossible to administer justice by courts operating in the territory where martial law is imposed, the territorial jurisdiction of court cases heard in these courts may be changed or the location of the courts may be changed under the procedure established by law.
Thus, as of March 23, 2022, there is a list of 121 courts in various regions of Ukraine, whose territorial jurisdiction has been changed due to the impossibility to administer justice during martial law.
Some courts in the areas where hostilities are taking place are working but considering only urgent cases. As for the courts located in the currently safe areas, they continue to operate on a full-time basis.
It should be emphasized that even under martial law, the establishment of emergency and special courts, or the reduction or acceleration of any form of justice is prohibited by law.
Transfer of case materials
On March 13, 2022, the Supreme Court issued recommendations to the courts of first and appellate instances in case of seizure of the settlement and/or court or imminent threat of its seizure. Among such recommendations – in the presence of the appropriate possibility transfer of court cases, especially those that are in the proceedings of judges, or at least the most important (high-profile) cases: materials of criminal proceedings in which a person is detained; proceedings against minors; proceedings for particularly serious crimes; other cases, the consideration of which may be essential for the rights of the litigants. If this is not possible, such cases should be kept in safes in the court.
But even in the case of loss of case materials in courts located in areas where active hostilities are taking place, procedural law provides a mechanism for their restoration.
State of court proceedings
In addition to the above changes in the territorial jurisdiction of cases, the war in Ukraine directly affected the judicial process. In this regard, the Council of Judges of Ukraine has prepared recommendations on the work of courts under martial law.
Thus, courts administering justice are advised to adjourn cases (except urgent trials) and withdraw them from consideration if possible, given that a large number of litigants are unable to come to court due to danger to life or can’t apply for an adjournment of the case or consideration of the case by videoconference in connection with work of critical infrastructure, joining the Armed Forces of Ukraine, territorial defense, volunteer military formations and other forms of counteracting armed aggression against Ukraine.
The courts are currently focused only on conducting urgent trials (detention, extension of detention). At the same time, cases that are not urgent are considered only with the written consent of the litigants. Admission to the court of persons who are not participants in court hearings is currently limited.
In addition, in wartime, courts are advised to take a balanced approach to issues related to the return of various procedural documents, leaving them without motion, setting different deadlines. If possible, it is recommended to extend the procedural deadlines at least until the end of martial law. The Supreme Court also notes on the website of the Judiciary of Ukraine that the imposition of martial law on the territory of Ukraine is a valid reason to renew the procedural deadlines.
It should be added that to prevent threats to the lives and health of judges and litigants in martial law, access to the Unified State Register of Court Decisions, the services “Status of Proceedings” and “List of Cases Assigned” has been temporarily suspended. Therefore, the date and time of the court hearings, the parties to the case can find out promptly by phone or by other means of communication.
Thus, despite the difficulty of administering justice in wartime, the courts of Ukraine continue to operate in areas where this is possible given the current situation, ensuring the constitutional human right to judicial protection.