The Ukrainian courts are virtually inaccessible for people with limited mobility, – this is the conclusion made by the coordinators of the Ukrainian campaign ‘Justice without barriers, who have recently published their findings after monitoring 72 Ukrainian courts in 16 Ukrainian oblasts. In addition to physical barriers, there are many meaningless rules and restrictions that make it difficult for citizens to exercise their right to a fair trial.
Over 50% of our compatriots have limited mobility. In other words, the issue of accessibility (architectural, informational) concerns every second person in Ukraine. There are no families that have not encountered such barriers at least once.
Court has to be accessible. It is not a cafe or a shop that one can chose according to one’s tastes and preferences.
Therefore, during the monitoring visits obvious accessibility criteria were evaluated: unimpeded access to the courthouse, free movement within the courthouse, visitor-friendly pass entry system, availability of visitor bathrooms, etc.
In particular, monitoring of 72 courts has established that:
· 19 courts have no accessible visual information and signboards;
· only 29 courts are equipped with wheelchair ramps, only 12 of which are in line with the State Building Standards;
· 46 courts are equipped with metal detector frames and security turnstiles;
· 69 courthouses are more than one story buildings, 65 of which have neither elevators nor lift platforms;
· usually Ukrainian courthouses have very narrow doors; doorsills of 46 courthouses exceed the established standards;
· corridors are too narrow, often with high doorsills and stairs;
· court's secretarial offices are hard to access;
· bathrooms in 60 courthouses have no signs; very often visitors access to the bathrooms is limited
According to Yulia Krasilnykova, Project Coordinator at Human Rights Center "Postup", Co-Coordinator of the Justice without Barriers campaign: “When starting our campaign, we expected to get such results. However, monitoring of accessibility of the Ukrainian courts has provided us not only with quantitative data. While providing information on the progress of our campaign, we were able to attract the attention of media, civil society, and of course the court officials and administration. We hope that the pressure of this information will influence those responsible for providing an unimpeded access to courts, which will help change the situation”.
During Justice without Barriers campaign other interesting observations were also made. For instance, taking pictures at courthouses is being prohibited, although there exists no document that contains such legal requirement.
Almost one-third of the courts (i.e. 23 courts in total) have their own rules of admission for citizens to the premises of the courthouse. In particular, some courts prohibit to wear jeans, to enter the courtroom ‘with exposed body parts or barefoot’, wearing flip flops and ‘very dirty clothes’ or clothes that ‘are not appropriate to the place’, as well as circus and theater costumes or fancy dresses.
Olena Luniova, co-Coordinator of the Justice without Barriers campaign and lawyer with the Crimean network of legal aid clinics, said: “The Ukrainian Constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to appeal to court for the protection of his/her constitutional rights and freedoms. But it appears that courts themselves decide who is worthy to appeal… There are a number of restrictions that may result in denying access to court. For instance, one court in Simferopol prohibits people with carts and bicycles from entering the court. Meanwhile, no exception is made for people in wheelchairs and people with baby strollers. Also there are a number of absurd restrictions on visitors’ outlook, dress code, tidiness and cleanness… What if someone doesn’t have anything other than jeans to wear – how could that be a reason to violate one’s right to appeal to court? Do Ukrainian courts perhaps want to establish a special dress code for visitors?”
The Justice without Barriers campaign is planning to file a lawsuit and make one of the Simferopol district courts establish appropriate conditions to allow disabled people adequate access to the courthouse.
The plaintiff is a disabled person (moving in the wheelchair). This man wasn’t able to enter the courthouse without assistance because there had been no appropriate facilities there.
Mykhailo Tarakhalo, Director on Strategic Affairs, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) said: “Accessibility is an instrument that allows the Ukrainian citizens to exercise their rights. If people are unable to enter a courthouse, it prevents them from exercising their right to relief in court and causes discrimination. If a plaintiff is willing to go all the way in defending his/her rights, the Foundation for Strategic Affairs of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union will provide support.”
According to the campaign participants, the problem of accessibility can also be resolved gradually if it is understood adequately and people are eager to find a solution. Thus, during their visits, they noted that a compassionate attitude and common sense on the part of the court officials may help overcome a lot of barriers.
«The Darnytsky Court architectural design currently does not provide for an adequate accessibility for visitors with disabilities. The court building, however, could be equipped with technical facilities that would ensure a better access. During the monitoring mission, the court security guard behaved respectfully, and was eagerly providing assistance to the visitors ascending the stairs to enter the courthouse. The guard initially attempted to prevent the monitors from taking photos inside the courthouse, however, when the monitors indicated that there were no grounds for such prohibition, he immediately agreed. He was performing his duties in a professional manner», – says a participant of the campaign, Chief Specialist, National Assembly of People with Disabilities Volodymyr Azin.
The Justice without Barriers campaign was initiated by the participants of the 2nd International Training Course on human rights for young activists implemented in the framework of the joint strategy of the Ukrainian Education Program ‘Understanding Human Rights’ and the Belarus Human Rights School.
Reference information: Justice without Barriers campaign was supported in the framework of the Supporting Citizen Activism in Ukraine Project implemented by People in Need NGO (Prague, Czech Republic) in partnership with the Crimean Human Rights Center ‘Action’, Crimean Network of Legal Aid Clinics and the International Visegrad Fund with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic. The project focuses on strengthening the role of local NGOs, initiative groups and school associations.
 People with limited mobility refer to those who find it difficult to move around, obtain services or vital information, and orient themselves in space independently. These include people with disabilities, parents with baby strollers, elderly people, etc.