Ukrinform continues the project, which acquaints Ukrainians with new faces of the Supreme Court of Ukraine, tells about those who will wear judge gowns for the first time, and those who came to the country's highest judicial body from scientific and educational institutions, from the bar and other spheres of social activity.
It is not often the case that a judge of a trial court from a provincial town dares to participate in a competition to the country's Supreme Court and wins it. This requires courage and confidence in your strength, and, probably, this was the case with current judge of the Supreme Court Mykola Mazur, who previously worked as a judge in Popasna District Court in Luhansk region. After all, he remained in his workplace at a time when militants fired at Popasna from Grad multiple launch rocket systems, and out of more than 20,000 residents there were only 4,000 people left. Ukrinform asked Mykola Mazur, a judge of the Cassation Criminal Court in the composition of the new Supreme Court, about what prompted him to work under fire, about a new sense of responsibility, as well as about the first-and-a-half months of work in a new post.
About work under fire
Yes, it was scary. Yes, I wanted to leave. My work kept me there, because my colleagues and I understood that leaving the area without justice was wrong. The most intense fighting took place from mid-January until the end of February 2015. We did not close the court during this period although we discussed in the team that this was a matter of not only our personal security, but also the security of court employees, participants in the trial. Then we reached a consensus that if this situation continues for several months, then we will stop the activity of the court. Over those two months, we had only a few cases that we considered. That is, there were the cases when, despite the hostilities, people still came to court. Of course, we heard these cases, while others postponed their consideration.
About high-profile cases during work in Popasna
There was a case on charges against a person who adjusted the fire of terrorist artillery. I acquitted him. I did so not because the person's guilt was not proved, but because his innocence was proved. That is, a person really agreed to adjust the fire, and criminal proceedings were instituted. But later, in the court session, it became clear that this person, having agreed to these actions, immediately informed law enforcement agencies about planned firing. The necessary measures were taken, in particular when this shelling began. That is, the defendant did not adjust the fire when they called him, but said that he was unable to get there, because he was detained at a checkpoint. At that time, our artillery managed to suppress the fire, because we calculated the enemy's position due to the warning received.
About motivation and trust in fairness of competition
I have a motivator - this is my wife. I cannot say that I was sure of my victory, but I did not even tell my friends about my participation in the competition, because there was always an option that I could not pass. There was even a moment when I doubted whether to submit the documents. That's where my wife worked, who was much more confident in me than I. If I did not believe that the competition would be fair, I would not have participated in it at all. Of course, there are always some doubts, but I am glad they did not come true.
About the choice of criminal direction in the cassation court
The first argument was my previous scientific experience. I cooperated very closely with my colleagues in criminal law and we co-authored several academic textbooks. On the other hand, I understood that the work of a judge in the provincial town of Popasna and the work of a judge, for example, in Kyiv or in another big city, differ greatly in the diversity of cases. That is, I felt some lack of experience precisely in civil jurisdiction, because some categories of cases did not come to us at all. Criminal justice is the same everywhere. Perhaps, the specifics changes a little bit, but in principle, crimes are the same.
About first day of work as a judge of the Supreme Court
In fact, I had two first days - the first one when we only took the oath and the second one when we started to receive cases. The oath was widely covered in the media and took place in Klovsky Palace with the participation of the president. I remember how we were signing the national anthem a cappella, because the music did not play for technical reasons. The president began to sing, others joined him, and so we sang the anthem of Ukraine. It was really a solemn moment that will be remembered.
Another thing is the day when we started to get cases. But I will not say that it was shocking or surprising to me, because I worked as a judge and knew what to expect. Therefore, it is better to describe the first month. Here, I noted the difference between the work as a judge of a trial court and a judge of the Supreme Court, where you feel a much higher level of responsibility for a decision that is final and cannot be subject to appeal. In a trial court, the judge makes a decision knowing that in the event of a mistake he will be corrected by his colleagues from the higher authorities, but here you understand that, in fact, you are one of those who correct others and there is no right to mistake.
About a sense of responsibility
Any ruling issued by the Supreme Court will create grounds for the formation of respective judicial practice throughout the country. That is, lawyers, prosecutors and other individuals will read and use these legal positions. Therefore, it is necessary to formulate rulings extremely carefully, so that your opinion was perceived absolutely unambiguously.
Last week, our panel considered the first cases. In fact, the cases were not very complicated, but when we made the decision, I woke up at three o'clock next night with thoughts about the correctness of the decision. Such thoughts kept me awake until morning. However, I can also be proud of my decisions as a judge of a trial court, because in some cases they also influenced judicial practice throughout the country. And this is a very rare phenomenon for decisions of a judge of a trial court.
About communication between judges
We meet every week and discuss topical issues that arise in practice. New people who came to a cassation court raise the question of the need to change approaches and there are a lot of issues that we are actively discuss. This communication also occurs during daily communication with colleagues. In such communication, we generate some kind of shared vision and we all try to find a consensus in order not to change the established things already made in practice and bring some new changes. I think that in the future, we will confront some interesting decisions that will influence the criminal process and judicial practice in some way.
About mission in the Supreme Court
My mission is to bring a new look at some traditional, established issues. As for the mission of the Supreme Court itself, this is probably a mission that is defined by law - to ensure homogeneity of judicial practice. And we, the judges of the Supreme Court, are fully aware of this.
About guarantees that the Supreme Court will bring the necessary changes
The new Supreme Court was formed as never before. A few years ago, I did not even think about such an opportunity so as to come to the Supreme Court. Could a judge of a trial court from a small town count on the victory in the competition, without knowing someone from the "top" who could make such a decision? Today, following a fairly long and complex competition, I can say using my own example that it was fair. The Supreme Court now consists of not only those people who confirmed their professionalism with their previous work in cassation courts or in the Supreme Court of Ukraine, but also new people who have somewhat different vision about a number of problems.
I think that such a combination will allow us, through consensus, to find the most correct and well-considered decisions on fundamental issues. It is difficult to talk about guarantees, but I can say that we have such a vision and a desire - to change something for the better, what is needed, and not to change the better for the worse. First of all, the legal community, which understands all the nuances and specifics of legal activity, should appreciate us. The question of citizens' trust will also depend on the assessment of the legal community. That is, we have such a strategic goal of increasing the level of trust of citizens not only in the Supreme Court, but also in the entire judicial system.
About laborious work of judges
First of all, I would like to note that even today, when the judicial system is in a rather crisis condition, information about the level of mistrust of citizens is, in my opinion, not fully reliable. Citizens often form their opinions about the judicial system as a whole on the basis of what they hear or read in the media, which see an interest in covering high-profile events. But very often on TV you will not see daily hard work.
For example, in the Popasna court, almost 99% of claims to the Pension Fund were not in favor of the Pension Fund, but in favor of citizens. I think that those who won in the courts fully felt the justice of the trial. They do not say this on TV. That is, with all the problems that we have now, the judicial system remains, perhaps, the last barricade on the road to complete injustice in the country. However, I agree that the problems really exist, and this is precisely the reason for the need to make changes.
Imagine that you are going to court with a certain case. Will you try to come up to the judge and say? "That's money for you." No. There were moments when a person hinted and asked what had to be done to have a decision made in his or her favor. But when you show that you do not understand the question, the person understands and does not ask that question any longer.
That is, there were no direct offers to make a decision for money, there were only hints. However, a person cannot be imprisoned for a hint, because by law I have to inform law enforcement agencies if there is an offer. However, I always rebuffed such offers at a stage when people tried to figure out my readiness with some hints.
In fact, when I came to a trial court, then there was a fairly high salary. I believed that a person who came to administer justice should feel his or her responsibility. I have always been idealistic and believed that trading justice is not worthy, and I have never had such a temptation.
About anti-corruption immunity
I can honestly admit that when my salary as a teacher was roughly equal to my salary as a judge of a trial court, then I did not see the point in working in court, because I understood how complicated and responsible this work was. When the official salary of a judge was increased by law, I went to work in court. I lived in a rented apartment in Popasna. I have a Chinese car, not some kind of Mercedes or Bentley.
It so happened that the problem of corruption in our country is very significant. Although I think that this problem exists in the judicial system, it is somewhat exaggerated. I know a lot of judges who work honestly and live exclusively on their salaries. I personally know judges who, with the beginning of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, left all they had, lived with their acquaintances in Kyiv, and during the first year they slept on a floor mattress.
Like all, I have also heard that some judges have a wealth that cannot be compared with my income. This is unacceptable. I think that in order to guarantee the absence of corruption at least in the courts, and then throughout the country, it is necessary to combine two aspects. Firstly, it is always a question of worthy wages that would allow judges not to think about how to survive. Secondly, it is the effective work of law enforcement agencies to identify corrupt individuals.
About the salary of a judge of the Supreme Court (UAH 132,150, or about $5,000)
I agree that the salary of a judge of the Supreme Court is very high. Previously, I received as much money for a year as I receive now for a month. To some extent, I even realize that perhaps this is too much. But with such a salary, you can be sure that, in principle, I am not interested in any other financial issues. Now I see the prospect of buying an apartment in a year or two. That is, I and I think other colleagues do not have at all any financial temptations and some need to "make money." This is also a very important guarantee that the court will make decisions based on legal norms, rather than financial "interests."
About interest in jurisprudence
There were no lawyers in my family. I can say that I am from an agricultural dynasty. My father worked in the countryside all his life, and my mother worked in a mine. My older brother at one time joined an agricultural school and I thought about it. But in summer, when I finished ninth grade at school, my father accidentally learned that a new legal college opened in Luhansk. The next day we went there, and he asked me if I wanted to study in it. I said yes, though I was not sure. My legal specialization began with my studies in the college. So my fate was completely different than that of my parents.
About life in Kyiv
At first I was a little bit "culturally shocked" by Kyiv. In the first month I lived on Troyeshchyna, where I had to go by trolleybuses, then the subway, and the shock was that the feeling of time in Kyiv was generally different than in a small town. In Popasna, I needed two or three minutes to get to work on foot, and here it is necessary to spend about one-and-a-half hours in not very comfortable conditions.
On the other hand, there are a lot of amenities in Kyiv that cannot be found in a small town – a supermarket, a cinema, and everything else. On weekdays I only go to the gym. But in reality there was not much free time, because my wife still works in Popasna, so in the weekends I visit my family which I plan to bring here. So putting my hand on my heart, I will say that in Kyiv it is better than in a front-line town.
Yulia Horban, Kyiv