Ukrinform continues the project, which aims to acquaint Ukrainians with the new faces of the Supreme Court of Ukraine, with people who got there through an open competition. This time we offer a story about a woman who has been working as a judge since Ukraine's independence.
Nadia Stefaniv was elected judge at the first democratic convocation of Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Council. Reputable judges openly denounced the communist party at the time. When asked how she managed to graduate from the law school without membership in the party, the young woman replied that she did not fit the party by age. She calls the competition to the Supreme Court "movement forward" and seeks to do her utmost to return people's confidence in the courts.
Ivano-Frankivsk is my small homeland. I was born in Rozhniativ district, in the village of Svarychiv, but I grew professionally in Ivano-Frankivsk. Here I live comfortably. I love these narrow streets in the middle of the city, friendly people. I love walking around the Cathedral, Town Hall, and the Armenian Church. My grandchildren were born in this city, so it is special for me. I like our courtroom on Hriunvaldska Street. I even asked artist Bohdan Kuziv to draw this historic building. Now I have a winter landscape, a very beautiful picture, which I will take to Kyiv, as a memory of my Ivano-Frankivsk.
About choice of profession
I studied at the village school perfectly. I always liked the exact sciences - mathematics, physics. I even thought of going to study at the Faculty of Electronic Computing. Now IT is a very competitive direction. During my studies I always participated in academic competitions and somehow I won a regional competition in law. I remember that the questions seemed interesting and easy for me. Then a teacher told me: why not choose the profession of a lawyer. That's what actually happened.
About judicial experience
I have been working in court since Ukraine's independence. I also worked as a judge in the time of change, when, in the 1990s, regional councils elected judges for ten years. As a legal counsel, I applied for a competition. As far as I remember, judges were elected at the first democratic congress, in the session hall of the regional council. Then I was asked how I could study at the law faculty, not being a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I explained that I did not fit the party by age, because I entered the higher educational institution at the age of 16, and I already got a diploma when I was 21. Then senior judges had to denounce the communist party so as to be elected again.
At the beginning of the judicial career in a trial court, I realized that the judge should not only resolve the disputes but also listen very carefully to each of the parties so that individuals could see the judge is not indifferent to the problems that forced them to go to court.
I managed to reconcile many parties, especially in family disputes, or in cases of private prosecution, which resulted in the closure of proceedings.
About publicity of courts
I always supported the transparency and openness of the courts and their communication with society. Therefore, I agreed to participate in the first pilot project "Assessing the level of citizens' satisfaction with the quality of certain aspects of the functioning of a court of appeal," which was conducted by a public organization with the support of the Fair Justice program. The process of preparation was remembered by an exciting period of waiting for the first results of the poll, very interesting and meaningful focus group discussions and positive impressions from judges and employees with the unobtrusive presence of interviewers in the courtroom during the interview period.
I was pleasantly impressed by the first results: they showed a really high evaluation of the quality of some aspects of the work of the courts, rightful proposals from citizens for improving the court's work. We set up a room for familiarizing the participants with the case materials. By the way, we recently moved it to the third floor, the so-called "public sector," for the convenience of visitors. The results of the survey contributed to the fact that in June 2011, in the court of appeal, for the first time in Ukraine, a communication strategy of the court was drafted and approved. I believe that along with the adoption of legitimate and fair decisions, openness of the courts is a factor that contributes to trust in the judicial system.
About women's role in court leadership
First I became deputy head of the regional appellate court. Then I was in charge of the judges of the civil chamber, there were more women. And then it happened so that I headed the entire staff of the appellate court, including the criminal chamber, where most judges, of course, were men. To be honest, they do not really like when women are at the helm. But I found common language with everyone. Now that a woman has headed the Supreme Court, I realized that at the time I was not mistaken by agreeing to head the court. After all, a woman, guided by her wisdom, will always be able to create an atmosphere of harmony in the team, which will benefit joint work.
In general, I was always interested in the issue of women's leadership in the judiciary, and, as a member of the Ukrainian Bar Association, I reported on the application of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. In 2014, I learned about the existence of the National Association of Women Judges in the United States, and in September 2014, the Association, according to my application, chose me as an international scholarship holder for participation in the 36th Annual Conference of the National Association of Women Judges. In October 2014, I had an opportunity to participate in the conference, which took place in San Diego, the United States. There I joined the International Association of Women Judges. This acquaintance with the wonderful association of women judges of the world again contributed to the idea of creating a similar professional association in Ukraine. Therefore, in March 2015, together with women judges and associates, we founded the All-Ukrainian Association of Women Judges, which I was entrusted to lead.
About competitions as movement forward
Competitions always accompany me in life. I love them, because they contribute to development and movement forward. It was in the competition that I once went to study in Warsaw, then in the Netherlands. In 2013, I got through a competition to a worldwide conference of women judges, which brought together representatives from all over the world. Having just learned of the competition to the Supreme Court, I immediately decided to take part in it.
In general, the competition to the Supreme Court was quite complicated. The tests were the most difficult for me, because I got used to oral exams. Thousands of questions that I prepared ahead of the competition did not seem difficult. But when I met them in the tests, I immediately realized that the difficulty was to select the only answer out of a possible two, which at first glance seem correct. In practical tasks, I felt "like a fish in the water," because I myself write a solution for a long time. I did not have a helper in my previous job, so there was no time for relaxation. Therefore, I passed this stage of the competition easily.
My relatives were most worried about me. When they announced the winners of the competition, we were sitting all at home at the table. I remember my children to immediately exclaim: "Hurray!" Their support is very important to me.
About 2,500 cases
There are so many cases at the Supreme Court. Our situation is better than in the Cassation Administrative Court. There are about 2,500 cases left for 24 judges of the criminal chamber. I get 20-25 cases in one day. We consider quickly cassation complaints and statements on revision. We are due to finish these cases before May. I think they could have been considered even faster if the Supreme Court had more courtrooms. We lack these premises, and this organizational issue must be solved.
About family traditions
I like to cook, especially on big holidays. I try to pass all the traditions to my children. I think they have to know this. I love vyshyvankas very much. In my wardrobe there are five of them. Each has its own history. The most expensive one for me is the one embroidered by my grandmother. I have recently handed it to my daughter - now it will be our family tradition. Other embroidered clothes were purchased.
About photography and sport
Earlier, I was fond of photography. Baby photos of my daughters are black and white, which I took myself. I studied photography in high school. We had such a subject called "Judicial Photography." At the time, the photos were expensive, but I had a lot of them, because I really liked this thing.
My hobby now is sport. Together with my colleagues I take part in the Supreme Run judicial club, which was founded by a fellow judge. I consider it a good initiative, which promotes the spread of a healthy lifestyle in our team. After all, judges work a lot, and sport gives way to energy and serves as the best team building.
In professional terms, I got even more than I could dream of myself. As a child, I imagined that I would become a teacher. And this, it turns out, has also come true.
In 2006-2008, I taught a course on "Countering Human Trafficking" at the Academy of Judges of Ukraine, as well as "Civil Procedure" and "Human Rights Protection" at Ivano-Frankivsk Branch of the Ukraine International University. I am currently teaching and developing training courses for judges of the National School of Judges of Ukraine. I am also a co-author of two methodical textbooks for judges.
I like teaching work due to the opportunity to transfer my experience and knowledge to judges who are just starting to work. And it is useful for me to communicate with experienced judges, which constantly requires me to master the subject, that is, to be in professional form.
About return of confidence in the courts
First and foremost, I want the signed decisions to bring people's confidence in the courts. After all, the court is the body that administers justice. Yes, it does not always mean that the court should be very good for everyone. No. But for all, the court should be fair.
About the results of judicial reform
I think that this will happen not sooner than in several years. During the reform, the judge does not yet have a sense of stability. Some courts are liquidated, and others are created. The reform should end. When new courts are created, when the Supreme Court has a single practice, then changes in the judiciary can be felt. And for this purpose not only I, but also my new colleagues came to work at the Supreme Court.
Justice and unity of practice are the main task for us. People do not have to worry about which of the judges will get their case. A few years later, when we work out this practice, there will be no need for every person to go to the Supreme Court, because the court of appeal will be obliged to make such a decision and take the legal position worked out by the Supreme Court. Here, I see our challenge for the next decade.
Iryna Druzhuk, Ivano-Frankivsk