November 2, 2011
Ukraine follows a civil law tradition, under which the Constitution of Ukraine (the Constitution) provides the framework for its legislative system. The principal body of legislation consists of laws adopted by the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine and international agreements of Ukraine duly ratified or acceded to by the Verkhovna Rada. Laws are implemented through various normative acts, which are adopted by the relevant government bodies (i.e., the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, Ministries, and State Committees).
The current Constitution was adopted on 28 June 1996, and heralded a new period in the development of the Ukrainian legislative system. The Constitution established general guidelines for national policy and established a foundation for the development of a democratic state.
Apart from its political significance, the Constitution has enormous value as a legislative act. The provisions of the Constitution are norms of direct application, which entitle any individual to seek the protection of his/her rights within the judicial system. In general, all laws and normative acts are adopted on the basis of, and in strict compliance with, the Constitution. The Constitution itself mandates the preparation and implementation of a comprehensive program of legislative developments by providing for the adoption of more than 30 new laws and, as deemed necessary, amendments of existing laws.
The legal system of Ukraine contains three major layers of normative acts: the Constitution; laws adopted by the Verkhovna Rada and international agreements of Ukraine duly ratified or acceded to by the Verkhovna Rada; and other normative acts. The Verkhovna Rada ratifies or accedes to international agreements in the form of laws of Ukraine.
Pursuant to the Constitution, Ukraine has three branches of state power: the legislative branch, represented by the Verkhovna Rada; the executive branch, represented by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (the Cabinet of Ministers) and headed by the Prime Minister; and the judicial branch, represented by a multilevel system of courts, with the Supreme Court of Ukraine at the highest level. In addition, there is the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which is the only body authorized to exercise control over compliance with the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine, its international agreements, and acts of the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, and other governmental agencies.
The President is the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and has certain authority over the executive branch. Presidential elections are held every five years.
Under Constitutional reforms dated 8 December 2004, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada during the course of the Orange Revolution and entering into force on 1 January 2006, the distribution of executive powers among the President and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine was shifted in favor of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Some of the key Constitutional rights of the President (e.g., the right to appoint the Prime Minister pending approval by the Verkhovna Rada) have been transferred to the Verkhovna Rada. The Constitutional reform transformed Ukraine’s political system from the presidentialparliamentary republic to the parliamentary-presidential republic.
Under the amended Constitution the President, inter alia, has the right:
- To sign bills (i.e., proposed legislative acts adopted by the Verkhovna Rada) into law;
- To nominate the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for their approval by the Verkhovna Rada;
- To appoint (and to dismiss) the General Prosecutor of Ukraine (pending the approval of the Verkhovna Rada);
- To veto bills (i.e., proposed legislative acts adopted by the Verkhovna Rada) and return them to the Verkhovna Rada for amendment;
- To dissolve the Verkhovna Rada if a majority coalition is not formed within 30 days from the date of its first meeting after an election; and
- To establish courts in accordance with the procedures established by law.
The Verkhovna Rada is the supreme legislative body in Ukraine, with the power to adopt laws and resolutions, and to approve candidates for the Prime Minister, ministers and several other senior government officers. The Verkhovna Rada is comprised of 450 deputies, elected for five-year terms. Under the amended Constitution effective from March 2006, Parliamentary elections will be held completely by party lists (i.e., under proportional representation). In previous years, half of the body was elected under proportional representation, and the other half was elected directly and individually by a majority vote in each voting district.
The Cabinet of Ministers lead by the Prime Minister is the highest body within the executive branch. The parties which win places in the Verkhovna Rada are required to form a majority coalition within 30 days from the date of the first meeting of the newly-elected Parliament or from the date of dissolution of any previous coalition. If a coalition is not formed within this period, the President has the right to dissolve the Parliament and to call for an extraordinary parliamentary election.
If a majority coalition is formed, it will have the right to nominate a person for the position of the Prime Minister. The President will then introduce the candidate nominated by the majority coalition for appointment by a majority vote in the Verkhovna Rada. The approved Prime Minister will have the right to nominate members of the Cabinet of Ministers for the Parliament’s approval, with the exception of the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which can be nominated only by the President.
In Ukraine, a bill becomes a law once it gains a majority (226 deputies) of the votes in the Verkhovna Rada (except for certain types of laws requiring a supermajority of 300 votes), and is signed into law by the President. The Cabinet of Ministers implements laws once they are adopted. The various Ministries, State Committees, and other authorized bodies of the executive branch are responsible for the direct implementation of the resolutions passed by the Cabinet of Ministers.
The court system, consisting of the courts of general jurisdiction and the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, exercises independent judicial power in Ukraine. The Supreme Court of Ukraine is the highest judicial body within the system of the courts of general jurisdiction.
The courts of general jurisdiction are responsible for civil, criminal, and administrative cases. In accordance with the Constitution (and the current legislation), the courts of general jurisdiction have the following four-tier structure:
- The Supreme Court of Ukraine, consisting of five
- specialized chambers;
- The supreme specialized courts (commercial and
- administrative), and the Cassation Court of Ukraine;
- The appellate courts and the Appellate Court of
- Ukraine; and
- The local courts.