New ILAC Status Report Documents the War’s Toll on Justice Sector

May 2023

ILAC’s newest report surveys the impact of twelve months of war on Ukraine’s legal system and justice institutions.  

Compiled with the assistance of dozens of Ukrainian and international stakeholders, Surviving the Assault: The Ukrainian Legal System After a Year of War catalogues information from hundreds of sources and offers insights into the challenges facing the Ukrainian justice sector both during wartime and after the guns go silent. The report also examines the human toll on the professionals staffing the legal system, the damage to physical infrastructure, the impacts on workloads and case filings, and other practical obstacles and new issues the conflict has generated for judges, prosecutors, lawyers, legal educators, notaries, and executors.

“As the conflict shifts, the challenges for the justice system continue to evolve,” said the report’s author and former ILAC President, William D. Meyer. “Fears about physical survival largely have been replaced by the need to reshape the justice system to meet a dramatically altered legal, economic, and security environment. At one point last year, nearly twenty percent of Ukrainian courts had suspended their activities because of active hostilities or Russian occupation. Yet as the military situation began to swing in Ukraine’s favor in mid-2022, a number of courts were able to reopen, court personnel came back, and judges, prosecutors, and lawyers resumed work.”

Surviving the Assault: The Ukrainian Legal System After a Year of War also details how Ukraine’s justice system has seen both a reduction in the types of cases typically seen before the war, and an upsurge in offenses and claims peculiar to wartime.

“Prosecutors who used to handle bar fights and car thefts now are faced with investigating over 66,000 alleged Russian war crimes and 17,000 alleged national security offences,” continued Meyer. “Meanwhile judges and lawyers work to untangle cases disrupted by the hostilities, address claims and issues seldom seen before the war, and handle the surge of administrative filings by more than six million internally displaced persons scattered across the country.”

Beyond the courts, Russian aggression has significantly impacted the justice system’s other professional components including notaries and executors, whose work is integral to an effective and efficient rule of law. Overlaying these issues is a history of disfunction in the Ukrainian legal system. And at the core of these professions is the Ukrainian system of legal education which, as the report describes, now faces multiple challenges as students and financial support become scarce in the new environment created by the hostilities.

“While physical infrastructure is being rebuilt and systems are being modernized, pre-war efforts to reform and professionalize the judiciary, the prosecutors, the Bar, and legal education – thrown into disarray by Russian aggression – must regain their footing and press forward with the vital task of creating a trustworthy and effective system of justice,” concluded Meyer.

In “Surviving the Assault,”ILAC looks at these historical challenges through the prism of the current conflict and describes the many challenges facing Ukraine as it seeks to build a democracy based on the rule of law in the midst of the Russian onslaught.

This report is a follow-on and update to “Under Assault: A Status Report on the Ukrainian Justice System in Wartime” published by ILAC in July 2022.