EU Project Pravo-Justice Held the Round Table on Finding Ways to Improve Forensics Activity in Ukraine

On April 13, the EU Project Pravo-Justice held online the round table: “Terms of Forensics Examinations and Logistics Support of Forensic Institutions." Since the beginning of 2023, that was the third event dedicated to the identification of problems and the search for ways to improve forensics in Ukraine, and organized by the EU Project Pravo-Justice.

The round table was attended by the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the NABU, the MoJ Forensic Institutions, the SSU, the State Border Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and private forensic experts.

Nataliia Tkachenko, Director of the Department of Forensic Support of Justice, Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, outlined in her intervention the objective and subjective factors that affect the timing of forensics examinations. She noted, among others, that in addition to the competence of forensics experts and problems with the logistic support, there is an issue of unjustified requests for the expert opinion by law enforcement agencies, when some investigators try to make their work easier by way of ordering forensic examinations where there is no need to apply special knowledge of a forensic expert.

“Some 30% of examinations are of no importance either for investigation or for solving the issue on the merits; they only create an additional burden on the forensics experts,” said Nataliia Tkachenko.

She added that there is also a problem with the quality of forensic examinations.

Speaking of the logistics support of forensic institutions of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, Nataliia Tkachenko reported that the situation had improved since 2015, but there was still a lack of necessary equipment. Nataliia expressed appreciation to the EU Project Pravo-Justice for the 3D scanners provided to forensic institutions and emphasized the importance of having such equipment.

Oleksandr Oliinyk, Director of the Directorate of Justice and Criminal Justice, spoke in detail about the novelties introduced by the draft law No. 6284 “On Forensic Activity”. According to him, this document sets the deadline for the examination to be held – 90 calendar days. It can be extended for certain types of examinations, but not longer than up to 150 days.

He reported that the Ministry of Justice initiated a proposal for the introduction of separate budget programs that would relate to the organization, operation, and maintenance of the state specialized forensic institutions and the introduction of uniform standards for the performance of examinations. According to him, such a step will improve the logistics support of forensic institutions.

According to Oleksandr Oliinyk, it is envisaged to enshrine the norm on the reimbursement of the expenses for the expert’s participation in the court session in civil and economic cases, as well as for the preparation of written answers to the questions of the participants in the court process by the forensic expert. The draft law also changes approaches to the cost of forensic examinations – instead of expert hours, which are defined at the beginning of each new calendar year, it is planned to introduce a universal formula for calculating the cost of forensic examinations.

“The draft law No. 6284 contains comprehensive solutions for many issues, in particular, it envisages the Government abandoning the concept of the so-called “criminal” forensic examinations, which shall be conducted, under the existing regulation, solely by state experts. Thus, private experts will be allowed to participate in almost all types of forensic examinations, which will also improve the terms of their completion,” said Oleksandr Oliinyk.

Oleh Nazarov, Deputy Head of the All-Ukrainian Independent Research and Development Forensic Union, raised the issue of excessive workload of forensic experts. He said that some 80% of forensic experts are extremely overloaded, and if the full-scale war continues, this problem will only worsen.

“The workload is directly related to the number of forensic experts; there are very few of them,” Oleh Nazarov said. As a solution, he proposed to liberalize access to the profession of a forensic expert and to introduce reservation from mobilization for forensic experts who are not part of state specialized institutions.

In his speech, Vladyslav Fedorenko, Doctor of Law, Deputy Director-Head of the Kyiv Branch of the National Research Center Institute of Forensic Expertise Named after Professor Emeritus M. S. Bokarius, developed in detail on the problem of excessive workload of forensic experts and the reasons for exceeding the deadlines for conducting forensic examinations. “The problem of exceeding the terms of conducting forensic examinations by more than 90 calendar days is not new to the forensic activity. However, it has become even more acute in wartime,” said Vladyslav Fedorenko and named three reasons why such a situation arose.

The first is the reduction in the number of forensic experts since the beginning of the full-scale aggression of the Russian Federation: 5-7% of forensic experts have been mobilized to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Territorial Defense Units, and other military formations; about 15% of forensic experts left the territory of Ukraine as refugees; 10% left the profession for various reasons, in particular, because of salary cuts.

“Does it mean that this niche remains unfilled? No! New forensic experts are being recruited. However, it will take time, at least one year, to train an expert who could write opinions and participate in court sessions,” said Vladyslav Fedorenko.

The second reason is the increase in the number of forensic examinations and the “off the charts” demand for certain types of examinations related to the primary tasks of the pre-trial investigation agencies these days – dealing with war crimes of the Russian Federation and determining the damages from destroyed or damaged property.

"In the first quarter of 2022, 11 602 requests for examinations were submitted to the M.S. Bokarius Institute, while in the first quarter of 2023 their number reached 18,473, i.e. there is an increase of 40%,” said Vladyslav Fedorenko with the reference to statistics. “The most “off the charts” demand is to the following examinations: ballistic and explosive-related ≈ 600 procedures per expert; construction ≈ 400, military ≈ 300, commodity-related ≈ 200, transport and commodity-related ≈ 100; environmental ≈ 80; molecular genetic ≈ 40”. The third reason is the stress caused by the war and the excessive workload of forensic experts who work 24/7.

“In practice, this leads to the use of simplified schemes for the examination of objects, a decrease in the completeness and quality of the use of means and methods of forensic examination; the commission of technical errors, including, typos when preparing of experts’ opinions,” said Vladyslav Fedorenko.

Ihor Yarchak, Head of the Legal Department of NABU, said that the Bureau raised the issue of creating an expert institution at NABU as part of the legislative discussion.

Stanislav Liubchenko, Head of the Center for Forensic and Special Expertise, Ukrainian Research and Development Institute of Special Techniques and Forensic Expertise of the Security Service of Ukraine, focused on eliminating the problem of unjustified appointment of forensic examination and poor quality of materials that are sent for expertise.

“It is necessary to improve the qualifications of investigators – who are initiators of the examinations – by means of extracurricular training; participation in conferences, round tables, thematic lectures. Investigators can also use the opportunity to inspect the objects that will be sent for examination, with the involvement of specialists, in order to decide, at this stage already, on the list of objects that must be provided directly to the forensic expert together with the list of questions for the examination,” said Stanislav Liubchenko.

Oleksandr Silkin, Head of the Main Criminal Forensic Center of the State Border Service of Ukraine, confirmed in his speech, the same as the previous speakers, that the increase in the duration of the forensic examination is largely influenced by the training of the investigator who appoints such examination. Speaking of the logistics support, he noted that the Center usually receives the necessary modern equipment as assistance from the foreign partners rather than procurement at the expense of the State budget.

Marharyta Zhuravliova, Deputy Director for Forensics of the Odesa Scientific Research and Development Institute of Forensics, addressed openly to the Ministry of Justice regarding the need to enhance the staff in the forensic institutions and establish equality in the logistics support of such institutions.

"If there were more positions that we could fill with forensic experts, we could complete certain types of examinations much faster. We also lack equipment. As of today, our chemical laboratory is almost non-operating because we do not have the necessary equipment,” said Marharyta Zhuravliova.

Ihor Starodubov, President of the Union of Experts of Ukraine NGO, raised the issue of providing logistics assistance to experts working in the non-state forensic institutions. He also suggested strengthening the state’s determination to promote private forensic examination.

Summing up the discussion at the round table, Iryna Zharonkina, Head of the Property Rights and Enforcement Component of the EU Project Pravo-Justice, informed that the EU Project Pravo-Justice would analyze the proposals made and submit them to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and MPs to develop a unified draft law on forensic expert activity.

"The EU Project Pravo-Justice assessed positively the draft law No. 6284. However, the Verkhovna Rada received several alternative draft laws. Therefore, the MPs decided to summarize the best norms and prepare a new draft law. We will systematize the proposals announced today and submit them to the Ministry of Justice and MPs, so that the draft law on forensic expert activity is adopted as soon as possible,” summarized Iryna Zharonkina. .