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Opening remarks at meeting with representatives of state bodies of power on the current state of the judicial system

July 19, 2010, St Petersburg

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,

Today’s meeting on the judicial system is somewhat unusual in that instead of meeting in Moscow as we usually do, we are holding an away meeting, here in St Petersburg, at the Constitutional Court, what’s more. It is therefore only logical that present today are not just the heads of our judicial system but also the Constitutional Court judges.

In the plane on the way here, the thought occurred to me that it is probably not very polite to come only to the Constitutional Court and not visit other courts too, and so, if our colleagues have no objections, we could hold future meetings at the Supreme Court and the Higher Arbitration Court, if only so as to get a better feeling for the situation. The Constitutional Court, of course, holds a special place, and is not located in Moscow. Here today, we have the opportunity to exchange views on the prospects for developing our judicial system and improving our country’s courts. 

The reason why I am taking such an active interest in this particular area is not because I have a legal background and worked for a long time as a lawyer, but because I believe that much in our country depends on the way our courts work: the public mood, people’s confidence that their rights will be respected and that if they are violated in any way these wrongs will be redressed, the investment climate, and ultimately, our country’s status and reputation as a modern and fast-developing nation.

This is what has motivated us to pass a whole series of laws over recent years ensuring respect for international standards in this area. I hope that our consistent implementation of the Developing the National Judicial System federal programme over 2007–2011 has also helped to improve the quality of the courts’ work. Courts are now better equipped and funded. Judges and other court staff have had substantial pay rises. I remember the judges’ different views and perceptions when all of these initiatives began. I held the view back at the time those discussions took place – and continue to do so today – that being appointed a judge is the summit of one’s legal career, and the quality of justice that judges dispense depends on how well they are paid.

We have established new institutions, including the institution of Judicial disciplinary tribunal. On May 4, the Law on Compensation for Violation of the Right to Court Proceedings within Reasonable Time or the Right to Enforcement of Court Decisions within Reasonable Time came into force. This law was drafted taking into account international recommendations, including practice at the European Court of Human Rights. It is being applied in practice now, and I hope that it will help us to develop a modern court system.

The judicial authorities today have enough guarantees for independent and effective work. But at the same time, the organisational structure does need improvement. We have decided to abolish single-judge district and town courts. They will be merged to create a network of larger courts. At the same time, so as not to decrease access to justice, we will increase the number of justices of the peace.

The draft federal constitutional law on general jurisdiction courts, which will define the final status and powers of all the judicial system elements has already been passed in the first reading. 

I remind you that this draft law will optimise the structure of our general jurisdiction courts. The biggest changes concern the long-awaited creation of the Supreme Court appeals board, and empowering the boards of federal general jurisdiction courts at the regional level to examine appeals.

I remind you also that the draft law amending the Civil Procedure Code with regard to appeals procedures has also been passed in the first reading. This will change accordingly the role of the appeals and supervisory instances in civil cases, and will make it possible for second instance courts to pass final rulings.

I have sent to the Duma a draft law on amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code that would regulate appeals procedures for re-examining decisions by general jurisdiction courts and changing procedures for examining criminal cases in supervisory and appeals instances. The adoption of these laws, which should happen during the autumn parliamentary session, will complete one of the most important stages in our judicial reform. 

We will need to appoint around 1,500 judges to the appeals courts. We have therefore set a preparation time that will last, for civil cases, until January 1, 2012, and criminal cases, until January 1, 2013. We need to use this time to put the whole system in order and carry out the necessary organisational, material, financial, and personnel-related measures.

One of our top priorities is to raise judges’ professional standards. I think that candidates for the position of judge need to have the opportunity to get specialised training for this work. Candidates must be professionally prepared for their work as judges, and they also need to have the necessary moral qualities.

I remind you that in 2009, a law was passed stipulating that all federal judges are now appointed with no time limit to their powers, but this law also introduced a number of new requirements to candidates for the position of judge, and on judges themselves, including provision of income and property declarations. I think that our people and the public organisations should be more actively involved in assessing judges’ performance. Their views could be taken into account, for example, when appointing justices of the peace.

The jury service system also requires improvement.

Systemic measures are required to divide powers rationally between the different courts and levels. As we agreed together at earlier meetings, we need to improve the system of pre-trial and extrajudicial dispute resolution. This applies above all to civil, commercial, family and labour disputes, of course. The law on alternative dispute resolution procedures through mediation will open up the road in this area. The institution of mediation is being introduced in our country for the first time and will help to create a new dispute resolution culture.

We will be able to reduce the workload on our courts by bringing into force special procedures and developing institutions for out-of-court procedure for resolution of administrative disputes. These procedures should be straightforward and open for all who need them. We certainly have plenty of disputes to resolve. 

In July this year, we passed amendments to the Arbitration Procedure Code concerning compulsory audio recording of court hearings, filing applications with the Arbitration Court in electronic form, and using e-mail. This is done for the first time and it is in step with modern developments in the way civil cases are handled. I think that these changes will help to speed up and modernise the arbitration process.

I think that proceedings in the general jurisdiction courts are also in need of modernization. Procedural amendments in this respect could be made to the Civil Procedure Code. 

We need to bring order to the procedures for court examination of administrative cases concerning protection of physical and legal entities’ rights, and also disputes between subjects of public legal relations. The draft law on general jurisdiction courts contains provisions on establishing a Supreme Court judicial board on administrative cases. Specialised boards or panels of judges to examine administrative cases in the general jurisdiction courts could also be a promising avenue.

I propose too that we reflect on ways to regulate the specific procedures in administrative court proceedings. I think that basic procedures of administrative proceedings, as far as the fundamental provisions are concerned, anyway, should be one and the same for the general jurisdiction and arbitration courts.

Finally, we have an issue that is one of our sore points, but that we must address nonetheless, namely, how to make enforcement of our court decisions more effective, and how to get those who implement the law to take these decisions into account. This concerns the decisions of all courts, and in this respect the adoption of the law on compensation for violation of the right to enforcement of a court decision within a reasonable time is just one of the first big steps we need to take. Other measures are needed too, including better coordination of efforts to ensure that court decisions are enforced, and improved budget policy.

Overall, modern courts need to be open for public oversight and as accessible as possible for our people. I remind you that the law on ensuring access to information on courts’ activities came into force on July 1 this year, and we need to make sure that this law is implemented and enforced nationwide.

July 19, 2010, St Petersburg