UKRAINE: A Legal System in Development
UKRAINE: A Legal System in Development

Carrie Cecil, Pitt Law '10, files from Kiev:

Ukraine is a democracy still in its infancy. Independence from the former Soviet Union was declared in 1991, and the Constitution was adopted in 1996. After declaring independence, Ukraine struggled to decide whether legally the country would adopt policies bringing it closer to the rest of Europe or policies tying it to Russia. This struggle to find a unified approach led – and continues to lead – to the adoption of often inadequate and continually changing legislation. Today, many laws adopted prior to independence are still at work, albeit in amended versions. The Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) is still working to pass foundational laws, such as the new labor code, which is currently under debate (the current code was passed in 1971).

The lingering Soviet influence on Ukraine's legal system manifests itself in several ways. Most prominent are the laws in use that were passed prior to independence. These laws in large part have been amended to "patch holes," but there remain differing philosophies between the laws passed prior to 1991 and those since passed. As time passes and the Verkhovna Rada adopts new laws, the influence will decrease, resulting in increasing effectiveness of the legal system.

The effects of Soviet influence are just as apparent in the practice of law in Ukraine as it is in the formation of law. At independence, a bar association and law firms did not exist because they were not necessary under the Soviet system. Although it is somewhat amusing that one Ukrainian law firm posts "One of the Oldest Law Firms in Ukraine since 1991" on its website, it is certainly true. At this point, attorneys in Ukraine are concerned with discovering the law currently on the books and predicting the likelihood that the law will remain unchanged as opposed to providing an analysis of what the law actually means.

As Ukrainian legislation develops and moves further away from laws passed before independence, the practice of law will develop as well. Until then, attorneys will be evaluating which laws are enforced, which laws are not, and which laws are likely to remain unchanged. They will also make sure to include repeated cautions to clients that their analysis is merely a prediction and other possibilities can occur due to how quickly the law can change.

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