Polina Li, expert of EU Project Pravo-Justice: "Implementation of model solutions does not always require large funding"
Polina Li, Key National Expert on Judiciary of EU Project Pravo-Justice spoke on the air of Today. Vden program on Ukrainian Radio about what a client-oriented court should be like and what best European court administration practices have already been implemented in Ukrainian courts.
The activities of our Initiative are aimed at improving court administration. That is, this does not apply to actual consideration of cases by judges. This is done to make citizens feel better in courts, to increase their trust to courts. The Model Courts Initiative is based on three so-called "pillars". The first is client-orientedness because we are trying to instil the idea that we provide court services in the courts and the services are used by consumers of court services. The second is security of staff, judges and visitors. The third is courtrooms and office activities. I would also like to note that our experts have prepared a textbook based on best European practices describing these model solutions – as many as 45 of them and we are all trying to implement these best practices in six Ukrainian courts.
In addition, we promote these solutions developed by experts from around the world, including Germany, France, Finland, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. They are well known in the courts of Ukraine, we conducted a number of webinars to tell how to implement them. Due to the pandemic, we were able to reach more people, because the number of participants is always limited – up to 100 people; however, each webinar was attended by even up to 500 participants.
Vulnerable categories of court users involve children, including those with autism, the elderly, pregnant women, and victims of sexual violence. Our model solutions are designed to help these people feel comfortable. For example, there are separate children's rooms for children and it is recommended to communicate with them only there. Experts recommend that the child be questioned only once, because, according to various studies, in subsequent interrogations the child thinks that he/she said something wrong and therefore begins to give other evidence than the first time. And judges are recommended to have a conversation without a mantle, in a confidential tone. Therefore, all work with vulnerable users focuses on avoiding secondary victimization.
Lack of funding is often complained about when trying to make changes and introduce innovations, but that is not always the case. For example, in Vyshhorod court, court staff themselves brought toys, colouring, ware, furniture and made a children's room on their own and there is an opportunity to speak to the child in less traumatic environment there.
As to vulnerable adults. They are often silent so as not to be the object of ridicule and bullying. In order to take maximum care of their rights in court proceedings, we conducted a special training of trainers. It was attended by representatives of the police, judges and representatives of the court staff, the system of free legal aid. The training was conducted by national and international experts, psychologists. Participants were taught to work with these vulnerable people comprehensively, at all stages of court proceedings and the administration of justice, because only then can the problem be solved comprehensively. After all, when working with these people, it is important to both adjust the system, make it more human-oriented and be able to obtain information.
There are many procedural solutions that will facilitate this. For example, have clear separation between waiting areas, corridors that lead the victim and the suspect. It's not that hard to do. There are different courts and limited space, but courts are probably unaware of such things and probably do not always understand that such things must be implemented to get a better result.
Courts are open to cooperation. There is great interest both from those with whom we are already working and with those who have not yet joined. There is one model court in Kyiv region and after the State Judicial Administration got acquainted with our contributions, the head of the territorial department asked if regional courts wanted to implement our solutions. And they want to. Courts want to change, to be open. They have an inner desire to change and we are happy about that because the Project is prolonged for two years and we would like to involve and change more courts.
Interestingly, it is the district and small courts that show the greatest readiness for change. They have a team spirit and they do everything together. They work in small communities where everyone knows everyone and therefore there is more "family" attitude. Though funding in such courts may not be as it should be, but they make small changes on their own. There are examples of small courts that have already set up children's rooms and signage.
And at the end of September, the decision of the Council of Judges of Ukraine was adopted whereby it officially recommended to use our solutions in courts. Therefore, the prospects for implementing model solutions in Ukrainian courts are very good.