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St Petersburg International Legal Forum

May 20, 2011, St Petersburg

Dmitry Medvedev took part in the first St Petersburg International Legal Forum. The plenary session’s theme was Law as an instrument of innovative and secure development of the global world.

Earlier in the day, the President signed an executive order on monitoring enforcement of laws in practice in Russia by the Justice Ministry which will submit an annual report on the results to the President.

* * *

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues. I welcome everyone taking part in today’s forum.

I hope today’s occasion will give us the chance to discuss the current issues in development of the law, the global challenges we face, and how we can address them, using the entire array of legal instruments we have at our disposal. I will share a few of my thoughts on these issues and address several different aspects. 

”Modernising and improving the legal system are not just relevant tasks today, but are something we simply cannot under any circumstance leave off the global agenda, the common agenda for building a secure global world.“

First of all, modernising and improving the legal system are not just relevant tasks today, but are something we simply cannot under any circumstance leave off the global agenda, the common agenda for building a secure global world. Successful social and economic reform, and adjustments to the international financial system – the things we have been working on over these last years – are not possible without modern and effective laws and a new framework for the international legal system.

As we know, the economic system’s general development is shaped not only by economic factors, but to a large extent by legal factors too, although I usually try to caution those who get tempted to think that simply changing the laws will be enough in itself to achieve quick and guaranteed results. Real life is a lot more complicated.

The deeper the changes in the economy, the more important mechanisms and institutions become. Ineffective, insufficient, or quite simply backward institutions and mechanisms are just as dangerous as going too far and too fast, and are a major obstacle to economic growth and modernisation of our economic and public life.

Even the best possible laws on paper can prove ineffective in practice and remain no more than declarations if we do not have courts that work, or if we have excessive or overly lax administrative procedures. Sadly, we know this all too well from our own experience.

Problems with enforcing laws, lack of respect for the courts, and corruption are not just issues affecting our public life, but are macroeconomic factors holding back our national wealth growth and putting a brake on our efforts to carry out economic decisions and social initiatives. The quality and competitiveness of legal institutions therefore play a vital part for assuring all countries’ future, the Russian Federation’s too. 

We will continue to develop our legal system. This is beyond any doubt. We will continue to improve our court system and keep watch over what is happening, because, as I just said, it is not always enough to simply change the laws to achieve the hoped-for results.

I signed an executive order today on monitoring the enforcement of laws in practice in our country. The Justice Ministry will carry out this monitoring. It will be comprehensive, performed on a scheduled basis, and aimed above all at improving the way our laws and statutes are enforced in practice.

In accordance with the provisions on this monitoring system, the Justice Ministry (with the help of other agencies) will analyse enforcement of the Constitutional Court’s judgements, and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights that require the adoption, amendment, or abolition of laws and other norms and regulations. This monitoring will extend also to enforcement of the decisions and orders issued by the President, Government, and the federal, regional, and municipal bodies of power.

An annual report will sum up the monitoring’s results. The aim is clear: to improve the legal system. This is not a universal solution of course, but I think it is an important step that will enable us to keep our finger on the pulse as far as enforcement of our laws is concerned, and make sure that we do not end up with things heading towards the opposite result to that desired.

Over these last years we have made progress in putting in place the foundations on which we can build a rule-of-law state in our country. I am absolutely confident we will achieve this goal, even though we are very much aware at the same time of our problems and regularly criticise them, while the other actors in legal relations criticise the authorities (those who take the decisions), and very rightly too.

We have changed our practice regarding the way various rules and laws are applied. Looking at some of the recent changes, we have, for example, moved away from the former practice of rigidly enforcing civil-law penalties when in the case of operations the tax authorities deem dubious in nature deals are recognised as invalid, and payment to the state of the entire revenue on deals is collected. I think this is an important step, though it alone is not enough to achieve the necessary results.

”Successful social and economic reform, and adjustments to the international financial system are not possible without modern and effective laws and a new framework for the international legal system.“

We have made protection of honest economic actors a priority in our modern legal and court system. It is important that conscientious businesspeople can be confident about stable legal rules concerning their property title and the assets they have acquired through deals concluded. To be honest, I would say that the practice in the courts is actually often ahead of the laws in this area, making direct use of the Constitution’s provisions, and very rightly so.

The court is always the foundation and guarantee of any rule-of-law state. This is true for all countries and all times. Respect for the law, and protection of individuals’ lawful rights and interests is not possible without effective courts and court proceedings.

Our country has made changes in this area too, changes that I believe make our court system more open and accessible for our public. We are doing a lot to ensure that cases go through the courts within reasonable timeframe. There have been positive changes in the judicial arrangements in all areas – civil proceedings, arbitration, and criminal proceedings.

Russian and foreign legal jurisdictions have been increasing their cooperation. Cases when Russian courts apply injunctive relief further to a court or arbitration ruling by a foreign judicial authority are no longer something exotic. 

I remind you that the principle of supremacy of the law is not limited to internal matters only, but also should be meticulously applied in international relations too. Action that goes beyond the bounds of international law often has destructive consequences and ultimately can cause problems for whoever violates the provisions of international law.

These days, most large corporations carry out their activities in several different jurisdictions. Such is the way of the global world, and this is very much an evident and incontestable fact today. This means that they have to follow the laws of widely varying countries in their operations. 

People in our world today are tremendously mobile, moving from one country to another, from city to city and from continent to continent, sometimes within a single day. This obliges us to harmonise our laws and unify our legal systems, and reach agreement on new principles and norms of international law that meet the modern world’s demands and very fast-changing nature. 

”Problems with enforcing laws, lack of respect for the courts, and corruption are macroeconomic factors holding back our national wealth growth and putting a brake on our efforts to carry out economic decisions and social initiatives.“

All countries recognised as actors in international relations are creators of law in the international sphere today, and a new universal legal framework can be achieved only with the participation of all concerned, all countries. We clearly need to harmonise our legal systems today, all the more so when we are talking about the important institutions of modern economic life that regulate international trade and financial relations. 

We are to start now discussing modern new standards in banking, finances and accounting, and common corporate governance standards. The global financial crisis made this problem very clear indeed. These were the issues we started to address with such urgency, for the first time perhaps, at big forums such as the G20 and others. 

To be honest, this process is not happening as fast as I, for one, would like. Looking at my own experience at G20 meetings, it is often a lot easier to reach agreement on immediate measures, including serious financial support measures, such as those the G20 has decided on over the recent period, and that come to hundreds of billions of dollars. But it is a lot harder to reach agreement on common principles and norms. The reasons for this are understandable, but we must do this nevertheless. 

I hope that my partners understand this too. They need to realise this and understand that even the most tried-and-tested and well-adapted international rules on financial life become outdated with time. The Bretton Woods system was timely and useful in its day and to some extent continues to play a constructive part, but we cannot simply cling to it now. We have to develop it, build on it, and on as broad a base as possible.

I remind you that at the end of World War II many rules were worked out within a very narrow circle, and there are many countries today that do not accept them. Even at the G20 meetings, when we get together, I know that the leaders of some countries not part of the G20 feel offended, even though the G20 does represent 85 percent of the global economy. But we cannot afford to ignore anyone today, not even those outside this 85 percent, because this task is simply too important.

But this harmonisation cannot be achieved by transposing one country’s rules to another country. This kind of direct transposition would be a simply mechanical copying of laws that would not work, and we all need to understand this. We all have our own history, our own understanding of what justice and fairness are about, and our own traditions. I think that attempts by one country to spread its jurisdiction to surrounding countries and try to change national jurisdiction into global jurisdiction are all the more dangerous.

This is what the international courts are for after all, and they have not exhausted their potential. There is also the arbitration system too. And so I believe that it is simply not right at all and very worrying too, to say that one legal system is better or more transparent than another. In this respect, there should not be any pressure on the actors in legal relations.

We require new mechanisms in the world today that will make it possible to settle problems of extra-territoriality and the interaction between international and national law, otherwise the gaps in legal regulation will lead to irresolvable disputes and conflicts. We must not forget either, that we cannot allow the law to be abused in international relations, and cannot forget the importance of respecting mutual interests. 

A huge number of legal relations bind every person to their country, no matter where in the world, and any coercive action, all the more extradition, or the transfer of an individual to a third country, must take the person’s citizenship into account, and should be carried out only on this basis.

”We are witnessing the emergence of new, autonomous non-state legal regimes that live according to their own principles and laws, and we as lawyers cannot afford to ignore them.“

Finally, we shall recognise that countries and groups of countries have long since ceased to be the only actors in international relations. The world has a huge number of very popular and influential non-governmental organisations, and they are playing an increasingly active part in international relations. We are witnessing the emergence of new, autonomous non-state legal regimes that live according to their own principles and laws, and we as lawyers cannot afford to ignore them. 

The rapid development of information technology means that in many cases it is not possible, or very difficult, to peg this or that deal to the national legal jurisdiction. Everybody is facing this issue in their legal practice now.

On-line trading often exists outside national boundaries and jurisdictions.

I am certain that the globalisation process will continue, and all of us, national leaders, practising lawyers, need to come up with responses and find our place in this process. 

Colleagues, laws and legal systems should be result of a process of dialogue between the politicians, lawyers, academics, business communities, and civil society. We must remember that law is an instrument for innovative and secure development in a global world. At the same time, we need to remember too that the law is the measure of freedom and the institution that will enable us to shape civilisation’s secure development today and reach compromises on the issues before us.

We all agree on the value of the law today. We simply need to understand how best to transform its main principles and foundations in order to keep up with the demands of the times, because the law has always been a living organism after all. There are canons that have inspired lawyers and lawmakers for thousands of years now, but at the same time, there is no way to stop the law from developing, just as there is no way to stop the globalisation of modern international relations.

I expect that you will pay attention to all of these issues, and many others too, during your discussions, and so I wish the conference every success and hope that all of you will have an enjoyable time here in St Petersburg.


I was delighted to listen to everything you all had to say. You spoke with much interest and feeling, and the points you raised reflect completely the full complexity of today’s modern global world. Let me just say a few words on the different subjects addressed.

It is clear that citizens’ possibility of appealing national court decisions in the international courts is an inalienable part of the status of the individual, of law and order. The international courts, by their very nature, always involve us conceding a bit of our national sovereignty. Russia enforces their decisions and will continue to do so.

We do this because we want to be a normal modern and civilised country, even when we are not completely in agreement with a decision, for whatever reasons, or think decisions excessively politicised. After all, judges are only human too, and in their decisions are guided not only by legal considerations but also by their own perceptions.

I agree completely with Mr Jagland [Secretary General of the Council of Europe] and with President of the Russian Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin that this system should not be seen as completely frozen in place. We do not rule out the possibility of changes to our appeals system, and this of course would affect too the procedures for enforcing international courts’ decisions. I therefore interpret the applause that followed Mr Jagland’s and Mr Zorkin’s speeches as indicating that most of you here support these kinds of changes to our judicial system. This is something we will have to think about.

We are all fighting corruption. This is a universal combat really because corruption is a common challenge and exists in every country. In very fast-growing countries such as Russia it reaches very big proportions and ends up costing us trillions of dollars – a completely unacceptable price to pay. We therefore should make every possible effort to take decisions at all levels, the international level too, that will help us in this fight.

The amount of attention the G20 has paid to this issue has surprised even me. I think that Russia is to continue expanding its efforts in this area and take part in the various anti-corruption conventions. We will ratify them, and I hope this will ultimately serve us too in our bid to join the big international organisations such as the WTO and OECD.

”Citizens’ possibility of appealing national court decisions in the international courts is an inalienable part of the status of the individual, of law and order. The international courts, by their very nature, always involve us conceding a bit of our national sovereignty. Russia enforces their decisions and will continue to do so.“

We will work too on enhancing international law and take part in the Hague Conference on Private International Law. I think this is an important part of our efforts to put in place modern legal systems. I believe too that humanity has much still to reflect on and consider in this respect.

Mr Akira Kawamura [President of the International Bar Association] raised the very complex issue of technological security. On behalf of everyone here I want to express once more our condolences to the Japanese people over the terrible natural disaster and subsequent nuclear disaster that struck their country.

I just recently visited Chernobyl for the first time. These kinds of disasters leave an indelible impression, not just through the destruction and irreplaceable loss of life they cause, but also because they are the monuments to human illusions. At the same time, they should encourage us to learn and become wiser.

What is wisdom as far as lawyers are concerned? For lawyers, wisdom is about proposing the means that will help us to prevent such accidents, not just the narrow technical means, but the legal mechanisms too. This is why we need to develop a common international legal framework for preventing such disasters and minimising their consequences. Russia has proposed just such an initiative, and I invite everyone interested to look through it.

Mr Peter Lodder [Chairman of the Bar of England and Wales] brought up a subject that is particularly painful for Russia – the fight against terrorism and prevention of terrorist attacks. I think there is probably no other issue that unites all countries and political leaders as much as this one. What we need is real, not fictitious cooperation. We need modern methods of fighting terrorism. We need real and full-fledged cooperation not just between the heads of states (we actually find it quite easy to reach agreements with each other) but also between legal organisations, intelligence services and courts. Only in this way will we achieve any significant results.

One other thing: we need solidarity on this issue, and we must at all costs avoid double standards. I remember how many years we spent convincing our American and European partners that Al Qaeda was operating in the Caucasus. They’d say, ‘You’re just making up these stories to cover up your own mistakes’. But then September 11 happened and the world changed. So, let’s remember this and try to be as consolidated as possible.

The President of our Constitutional Court made an emotional speech in which he spoke about our future. Let me state the obvious – it’s a politician’s lot to state the obvious – and say that our future is in our own hands. Our future depends on presidents and on taxi drivers too, including Paris taxi drivers, perhaps even more so than those in other places. But we cannot just state the obvious of course. If our future is in our own hands, we have to learn how to reach agreement with each other. There is an issue that is not directly related to our forum, but on which I will nonetheless say a few words. We are to think about what our European home – our common home – will look like.

Ahead of us is 2020, the year in which Europe will get a new missile defence system. Let’s agree now on what kind of system this will be, and then in 2020 we will have a common European home that is modern and well adapted to life. But if we fail to come to an agreement, we will end up with a Europe like that in the early 1980s. I do not want to live in such a Europe, and I hope you don’t either.

If there is instability in Europe there will be problems around the whole world. Let’s summon up the courage to make these difficult decisions, and our world will then become a more prosperous place in which law and justice finally triumph.

I wish the conference success.

May 20, 2011, St Petersburg