Now in Legal Rebels:
Posted Feb 07, 2013 06:50 pm CST
A 31-year-old Ukranian lawyer who was arrested and jailed two years ago when he went to the Kiev police station to visit a client accused of car theft has become a focal point in a growing controversy over the oppressive power of prosecutors fueled by a lack of judicial independence, the Associated Press reports.
Attorney Oleg Nikolishen went to visit a client charged with car theft in January 2011 and was instead charged himself with the same crime. Nikolishen remained jail until December 2012, when he was released on bail for treatment of stage-four lymphoma that he developed during custody. He went without treatment for more than a year, the Associated Press reported.
Criminal defendants in Ukraine often remain jailed for months or years before trial, and prosecutors, who achieve conviction rates of about 95 percent, are known for filing complaints or legal actions against judges who rule against them.
“Judges are afraid to issue acquittals because if they do … they won’t hold their jobs for much longer,” says Ruslan Rozhenko, a retired Kiev judge and an activist for legal reform.
Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych last year acknowledged the problem, saying there should be more acquittals and asked the parliament for a new criminal code to put individual rights in better balance with prosecutorial power. The country’s justice system is a major impediment to its joining the European Union.
Though the law requires that criminal charges brought against a lawyer be filed only by senior prosecutors, a low-level prosecutor working with a rank-and-file police officer charged Nikolishen, the Associated Press reported. He was unable to get courts to acknowledge his professional status because his document identifying him as a lawyer was confiscated when he was arrested.
Nikolishen’s lawyer says the charges are based on testimony by members of the alleged car-theft ring that was obtained through torture.