Ukraine takes key step towards reform of judiciary

By Dan Peleschuk

KYIV (Reuters) - A congress of Ukrainian judges on Thursday appointed the last of eight new members to an important judicial oversight body, a move experts and officials have said is critical to Kyiv's push to reform its judiciary.

The European Union made cleaning up the courts one of its main recommendations when it offered Ukraine the status of candidate member last June, four months after Russia's invasion.

The selection of the new members to the High Council of Justice (HCJ) means the body can resume its work overseeing the appointment, dismissal and disciplining of judges.

"Looking forward to the reformed HCJ showcasing rule of law and integrity in practice," the EU's ambassador to Ukraine, Matti Maasikas, wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine's parliament has already passed all the legislation sought by the EU before the start of accession talks with Kyiv, the speaker of the assembly said last month. But implementing those laws and achieving membership is widely expected to be a long road.

Some watchdogs have also warned that powerful interests are prepared to push back against reforms, especially in the judiciary.

In a statement on Thursday, the DEJURE Foundation, a non-governmental organisation which tracks judicial reform, expressed concern over the quality of the eight new selections.

"(Judges) demonstrated their unpreparedness for true agents of change in the judicial system," it said. "We will evaluate the new team by their decisions, the new HCJ has a chance to dispel the doubts of society".

Anti-corruption authorities in Kyiv have also doubled down in recent months on their battle against graft.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)