Two of the most significant challenges that Ukraine faces in strengthening the rule of law are low public awareness of and low public trust in the judiciary. These challenges are often the result of insufficient interaction between judicial institutions and citizens, reinforced by the Soviet-era public perception of courts as punitive institutions without a tradition of public service. The USAID Ukraine Rule of Law Project is helping courts overcome such challenges by introducing citizen report card (CRC) surveys.
In collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs), national judicial institutions, and Ukrainian and international experts, 15 Ukrainian courts have used successive rounds of CRCs to collect data to pinpoint how to improve court efficiency, citizens’ access to justice, and customer service. Originally designed in India to measure citizen satisfaction with municipal services, CRC surveys have been adapted to score citizens’ perception of seven quality areas: 1) physical access to courts, 2) the level of comfort in the courthouse, 3) access to court information, 4) affordability of court fees, 5) timeliness in considering cases, 6) court staff performance, and 7) judges’ performance.
As opposed to focusing on the quality of a verdict or the correct application of the law, the citizen report card reflects a broader understanding of court performance, which is also concerned with the length of case proceedings, the competence and professional skills of judges and court staff, and the treatment of parties to a case, among other things.
In implementing CRCs, Ukrainian courts have welcomed a diagnostic tool to help identify gaps in service, an external court performance evaluation method to improve courts’ accountability to the public, and a benchmarking tool to track progress in improving court services over time. CRC partners are further laying the groundwork to establish court performance standards in Ukraine. Such standards could evaluate how successfully (or unsuccessfully) courts uphold core values including fairness, timeliness, and integrity.
Project-supported CSOs conducted a pilot round, the first of three, in 2008-2009 in 12 courts. In total, CSO activists interviewed more than 7,500 court visitors and developed more than 100 recommendations to improve court services. Acting on recommendations from the project’s first round of CRC surveys in 2008-2009, two courts made their premises more comfortable for visitors, and four courts increased the availability of case information for visitors.
The second round of CRC took place in 2009-2010 in 15 courts including seven that had previously participated in the first round. Visitors to these courts scored staff performance higher in the second round of CRC surveys. Specifically, although 61 percent of court visitors to these courts reported that court staff was diligent, knowledgeable, and competent in the first round, this proportion increased to 70 percent in the second round. In addition, three courts improved the timeliness of their service provision between the first and second round.
Six of seven courts participating in rounds one and two of the CRC surveys improved their scores for overall quality of court performance, from an average of 57 percent satisfaction in round one to an average of 71 percent satisfaction in round two. In addition, the second round of CRC surveys included eight newly selected courts. It is important to note that the selection of courts for the second CRC round was based not only on CSO initiatives but also on requests by judicial authorities. Specifically, the Volyn Territorial Branch of the State Judicial Administration of Ukraine requested the CRC surveys in five courts of Volyn Oblast.
The 15 courts participating in the second round of CRC surveys received more than 200 recommendations based on citizen feedback. These courts also participated in the third CRC round in 2011. The third round resulted in a mean improvement of almost 15 percent in citizen satisfaction over the successive rounds.