The judicial system of Ukraine consists of four levels, as follows:
- Local courts of general jurisdiction (combining criminal and civil jurisdiction) consisting of:
- district, urban district and town courts;
- regional courts;
- city courts in Kiev and Sevastopol;
- administrative local courts.
- Appeals courts, consisting of:
- appeals court of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea;
- regional appeals courts;
- appeals courts of the cities of Kiev and Sevastopol;
- appeals court of the Ukrainian Navy;
- regional military appeals courts;
- economic appeals courts;
- administrative appeals courts
- The Appeals Court of Ukraine, covering civil, criminal and military cases;
The courts enjoy legal, financial and constitutional freedom guaranteed by measures adopted in Ukrainian law in 2002. Judges are protected from dismissal (save in instances of gross misconduct). Senior judges are nominated by parliament and are appointed by presidential decree for a period of five years, after which Ukraine's Supreme Council confirms them for life in an attempt to insulate them from politics. Although there are still problems with the performance of the system, it is considered to have been much improved since Ukraine's independence in 1991. The Supreme Court is regarded as being an independent and impartial body, and has on several occasions ruled against the Ukrainian government.
Ukraine's judicial system was inherited from that of the Soviet Union and the former Ukrainian SSR. As such, it had many of the problems which marred Soviet justice, most notably a corrupt and politicised judiciary.
The Prosecutor-General's Office - part of the government - exerted undue influence, with judges often not daring to rule against state prosecutors. Those who did faced disciplinary actions; when a Kiev court ruled for opposition politician Yuliya Tymoshenko, the presiding judge was himself prosecuted. The courts were not even independent from each other, and it was commonplace for trial court judges to call the higher courts and ask how to decide a case. Courts were often underfunded, with little money or resources. It was not uncommon for cases to be heard in small, cramped courtrooms with the electricity cut off while prisoners were unable to attend because of lack of transport from jails to courtrooms.
Reformers highlighted the state of the judiciary as a key problem in the early 1990s and established a number of programmes to improve the performance of the judiciary. A Ukraine-Ohio Rule of Law Program was established in 1994 which brought together lawyers and judges from the American state of Ohio, including members of the Ohio Supreme Court, with their Ukrainian counterparts. The United States Agency for International Development supported these and other initiatives, which were also backed by European governments and international organisations.
These efforts proved controversial among some of the judicial old guard, but an band of reformist judges - dubbed the "judicial opposition" - increasingly gained support from reformers in local administrations who pushed for an end to judicial corruption. Judges were indicted en masse in Dnipropetrovsk in the early 1990s, and later on judges from the Mykolayiv city court and the Moskovskyy district court of Kiev were put on trial for corruption.
Major changes were made to the judicial system when the law "On the court system" was passed on 7 February 2002, creating a new level of judiciary and enacting institutional safeguards to insulate judges from political pressure.
- "Reform of Ukrainian justice system gives cause for optimism", Vlada i Polityka, Kiev, 9 August 2002
- "Ukrainian judge describes flaws in national judicial system", Ukrayina Moloda, Kiev, 19 October 2001
World Factbook entry on Ukraine's Justice system (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/wfbcjukr.txt)