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Constitution of Ukraine

Modern Ukraine is a relatively young state, having established its independence on August 24, 1991. As every sovereign nation, it has its own Constitution.

The Constitution of Ukraine was adopted by the Fifth Convocation of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s legislature, on June 28, 1996 by a vote of 315 out of 450 votes.
On February 21, 2014, Ukraine’s parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of a return to the country’s 2004 Constitution that would limit the President’s power. A total of 386 MPs voted for the relevant law, by so doing, asserting the 2004 Constitution to be the basic law of the nation.

Ukraine’s Constitution consists of 15 chapters:
  • General Principles
  • Human and Citizen Rights, Freedoms and Duties
  • Elections. Referenda
  • The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine
  • The President of Ukraine
  • The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Other Executive Bodies
  • The Office of the Prosecutor
  • The Judiciary
  • The Territorial Structure of Ukraine
  • Autonomous Republic of Crimea
  • Local Governments
  • The Constitutional Court of Ukraine
  • Amending the Constitution of Ukraine
  • Final Provisions
  • Transitional Provisions

This document defines Ukraine as a democratic, independent, social and legal state and outlines the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens. All other laws and regulatory acts of Ukraine must comply with the Constitution.

The history of the Constitution in Ukraine starts in the times of Kyivan Rus. The head of the state, Grand Prince Yaroslav Mudriy—the Wise—established a set of laws that de facto had constitutional force in the 11th century.

By the 18th century, Hetman Pylyp Orlyk had written a proper Constitution, entitled “Pacts and Constitutions regarding the Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporozhian Army” (Pakty i Konstytutsii Prav i Volnostei Viyska Zaporozkoho). The document, written in 1710, consisted of a preamble and 16 articles, defining the rights and duties of all the kozak warriors. During that epoch, most men were kozaks, meaning that this Constitution covered many people of Ukraine.

During soviet times and Ukrainians were under four different Constitutions, adopted in various times. Until June 8, 1995, Ukraine's supreme law was the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Ukrainian SSR (adopted in 1978, with numerous amendments). On June 8, 1995, President Leonid Kuchma and Speaker Oleksandr Moroz (on behalf of the parliament) signed the Constitutional Agreement for the period until a new constitution is drafted.

On February 21nd, Following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, The Parliament passed a law that reinstated the December 8, 2004 amendments of the constitution. A total of 386 MPs voted for the law. The document was passed under simplified procedure without any decision of the relevant committee and was passed in the first and the second reading in one voting.

The 2004 Constitution, which was in effect until 2010, limits the presidential powers and broadens those of the parliament and government.

In 2016 the Verkhovna Rada adopted major amendments to Ukrainian legislation as a part of long-awaited judicial reform.

Changes were designed to prevent corruption in the court system of Ukraine:

1.    Simplification of the court system. The reform of the court system involves transition from a four-level court system to a three-level court system which is composed of courts of original jurisdiction, courts of appeal and the newly established Supreme Court.

2.    Excluding the political component when deciding whether to sanction the arrest or detention of a judge. From now on, only High Council of Justice, not Verkhovna Rada, can authorize such an arrest or detention, except for detentions of judges during or immediately after committing a serious or grave crime. That also means that judges do not have full immunity anymore.

3.    Implementation of advocate monopoly. Ukrainian lawyers who are not attorneys (have not passed the exam and obtained a respective license), previously were not allowed to practice criminal law. On the other hand, being an attorney was not required to represent either the plaintiff or defendant in any other litigation. However, as soon as the Law on Amendments to Constitution comes into force, only the attorneys will be entitled to represent clients in Ukrainian courts, subject to a few limitations.

4.    New procedure for appointment of judges. Judges are appointed to office by the President upon the recommendation of the High Council of Justice for unlimited term (formerly the appointment of judges for unlimited term was carried out by the Parliament; the first appointment covered a five-year term).