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Ukraine: New Law on State Attorneys

(Nov. 4, 2014) On October 14, 2014, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s legislature, adopted the Law on the Procuracy. (Rada Starts the Reform of Law Enforcement by Passing the Law on Procuracy [in Russian], NEWSRU.UA (Oct. 14, 2014).) The procuracy system is the main law enforcement institution in the post-Soviet countries; the office was inherited from the Russian imperial past and remains in charge of conducting prosecutions, investigations, and supervision of the observance of laws in the country. This hierarchical, nationwide system usually includes the Prosecutor General at the top and state attorneys and investigators in provincial and local procuracy offices. (WILLIAM BURNHAM et al., LAW AND LEGAL SYSTEM OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION 136-137 (Juris Publishing, 2004).)

The new Law defines the basic principles of the Ukrainian procuracy, the structure of the institution, the legal status of prosecutors, and their appointment and dismissal processes. It also sets forth rules of professional self-organization for state attorneys and general rules for funding and organization of prosecutorial offices. (Law on the Procuracy [in Ukrainian], Doc. No. No. 1697-VII (Oct. 14, 2014) Verkhovna Rada website.)

The Law provides for the creation of a three-tiered prosecutorial system consisting of general, regional, and local procuracies. Various existing overlapping territorial offices, as well as specialized procuracies (e.g. for transportation, the environment), will be eliminated. (Id. art. 7.) The Law defines the major functions of the procuracy as to:

• support prosecution on behalf of the state in courts;
• represent the interests of the state and individuals in courts in certain cases defined by the Law;
• monitor the legality of actions and adherence to law by law enforcement authorities; and
• control how court decisions in criminal cases are carried out and laws affecting the personal freedoms of individuals are applied. (Id. art. 2.)

The new Law limits the scope of duties previously assigned to the procuracy, eliminating completely the function of “general supervision” for implementation and application of national laws. However, some observers caution that the operations of the office will not change easily, because this function of general supervision can be conducted within the existing framework of the criminal process and may open the door for potential abuses. Lawmakers believe that elimination of this function will help to save funds, because there are about 75 controlling agencies in Ukraine today. Similarly, it is hoped that creating enlarged regional offices and decreasing the total number of procuracy employees will serve cost-saving purposes. (Iurii Usmanov, Seven Major Novelties in the Law on the Procuracy [in Ukrainian], PRAVOCONSULT.COM.UA (Oct. 16, 2014).)

The Law provides for greater involvement of the prosecutorial professional community in the appointment of new prosecutors and allows prosecutors not to implement orders of higher-ranking prosecutors if they doubt the legality of those orders. (Iuliia Sheshuriak, Law on Procuracy Adopted [in Russian], JURLIGA.UA (Oct. 14, 2014).)