The war continues and constantly makes adjustments to the life of society. Also, war strongly influences and constantly changes criminal practice. The engine of these changes is the work of law enforcement agencies, which spent most of 2022 waiting and adapting, and in 2023 worked and actively worked out their areas of responsibility. What came of it?
Work efficiency = media publications. Activation of the work of law enforcement agencies, however, not on the quality, but on the media level. Loud headlines about arrests, the application of sanctions, and the seizure of funds testified to the public's approval of the work of law enforcement officers, but often in such cases there was no evidence of a person's guilt.
This was especially true of the work of the Bureau of Economic Security, which did not increase its rate of cases completed and sent to court and reported on its work through publications about conducted searches and seizure of cash and seizure of enterprise property.
Investigation of procurement cases. Also, the year 2023 was remembered for the fact that criminal proceedings regarding purchases, especially those carried out by military units and the Ministry of Defense in 2022-2023, were actively investigated. Mostly, such cases concern purchases of goods/services at inflated prices and deliveries of low-quality products.
This category of cases has a peculiarity - at the same time as criminal proceedings, the prosecutor's office can file lawsuits with the commercial court regarding the cancellation of contracts, and auditors can conduct procurement audits. These processes continue simultaneously and partially influence each other.
Increase in plea bargains. Another trend of 2023, which has every chance of developing in 2024 – NABU and SAP sharply increased the number of concluded plea agreements on the conditions of sending large donations from suspects and accused persons to support the Armed Forces. For law enforcement officers, it is a plus - they seem to confirm that there is no point in defending yourself and the evidence of guilt is indisputable, and there is also additional funding for the army.
But often there is no alternative for the suspects and the accused, and for them the situation looks like that, taking into account the long consideration of criminal cases, it is simply easier to agree to what is offered and not have problems with the courts and the costs of lawyers for years to come.
Courts more often granted the request to cancel the seizure of property. Compared to 2022, courts more often granted defense requests to cancel the seizure of movable and immovable property. According to the statistics of the State Administrative Court, investigating judges and courts granted almost 50% of such requests. Conditionally, if you prepare a really reasoned petition and provide your own evidence, there was a high probability of getting a positive result.
Increase in criminal proceedings in absentia investigation and extradition requests. A significant number of people left the country, and law enforcement officers began to turn a significant number of "factual" proceedings into proceedings where a person is notified of suspicion. However, not having the tools to force the suspects to appear for procedural actions, law enforcement officers initiated a national and international search for the person, as well as conducting an absentee investigation in the person's absence. In the vast majority of cases, the courts granted such petitions.
As a result, the number of requests to extradite a person from the country to Ukraine has also increased. It is worth noting that the courts of European countries refuse extradition to a belligerent country, which their national courts have repeatedly ruled on during 2023.
The number of war crimes has increased. Also, in 2023, the number of criminal proceedings against the established order of military service and proceedings regarding illegal crossing of the border increased sharply. The reasons are clear. At the level of the Supreme Court, the first wartime practice regarding these categories of criminal offenses is already beginning to take shape.
In general terms, this is how 2023 was remembered in the field of criminal practice. What awaits us in 2024? In my opinion, trends in criminal practice will be largely influenced by several factors of a national scale:
- insufficient financing of the budget by international donors, accordingly the state will look for different ways to compensate for it. To minimize the risks of international financing, the government has prepared a strategy for increasing domestic revenues from taxes and customs payments. This strategy will come into effect in 2024, respectively, the pressure of law enforcement agencies on business will increase, the number of tax evasion cases will increase.
- The expected mobilization of a greater number of the population may affect another increase in crimes in the military sphere and in relation to crossing the border. This will also increase the workload of criminal lawyers.
It is very likely that law enforcement officers will conduct more searches and seizures of property, transfer more assets to ARMA and physical evidence to the Armed Forces.
We can also expect that in 2024 the Working Group on the Development of Criminal Law will complete its 5-year work on the preparation of a draft of the new Criminal Code, which completely changes its philosophy and departs from the outdated Soviet principle of "crime-punishment". But most likely, even if the project is voted by the parliament, it will come into force no earlier than 2025.
What are the trends in defense work for 2024? The workload of lawyers will definitely increase, but the work for the defense side will gradually become more difficult. Law enforcement officers are investigating increasingly complex, multi-episode and large-scale cases with a large number of participants, which is especially evident in the cases of NABU and SAP.
In addition, for professional protection, it will be necessary to understand in detail some areas of legislation, such as public procurement, customs legislation, delve into the processes that are described in reports of suspicion and break down everything to the smallest detail.
Such cases also have the effect that it will be more difficult for lawyers practicing individually to handle such cases independently, and they will unite and create project teams for more effective defense. And law firms - to attract more lawyers to support projects.
In summary, we expect a busy and difficult 2024. We will analyze what it will be at the end of the year. It is only worth remembering that it also depends on many factors that no one can influence.