The conference is dedicated to ways of enhancing law and order, improving the business climate, protecting the rights of citizens and analysing the judiciary reform.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends and colleagues,
Attending this annual conference are court chairmen from all the regions of the Russian Federation. It is a pleasure to welcome you all and wish you fruitful work.
You are to consider matters that concern both the judicial community and entire society, because these matters are directly linked to enhancing law and order, improving the business climate and protecting the rights of our citizens.
I believe that you will focus on an analysis of the judicial reform launched, as we know, in 2014. A lot has been done since then; most importantly, we are consistently resolving the issues that actually prompted this reform. Primarily, we have made important steps in the direction of ensuring a single interpretation of legal norms and achieving uniformity of court practice.
I would like to remind you of something you should know better than anyone else – that between 1992 and 2002 we held 12 joint plenary meetings of the Supreme Court and the Higher Arbitration Court to align their positions. It seemed then that many of the interdepartmental contradictions could be overcome. However, beginning with 2005 there have been no supreme court plenary sessions, while their rivalry over authority only became stronger. This is what lay at the basis of our decisions.
However, last year the Supreme Court Plenary Session passed 13 resolutions clarifying the legal clauses that caused significant differences between general jurisdiction courts and commercial courts. Life itself has shown that the creation of a single supreme body made it possible to avoid these contradictions, to unite the potentials of each of the judiciary subsystems and generally to bring judicial authority to a new level.
I would like to stress that our reform should first of all assist in improving the quality and accessibility of justice. It was launched with exactly this aim in view – the efficient protection of the rights, dignity and property of this country’s citizens, and increasing their trust in courts and judges.
A lot here depends on your professionalism, openness and desire to grasp every detail of a case and deliver a lawful, fair judgement. At the same time respect for court rulings and a civilised attitude to them should be instilled in society.
Such an attitude is only possible when there is a high legal culture in society. However, unfortunately, we must admit that we are not doing very well in this respect.
Those who lose a case in court frequently continue ‘contesting’ even after the court ruling has come into effect, organising all sorts of pressure on court, including tailored information campaigns, using all kinds of epithets to taint the image of not only a specific judge or court, but of the entire judicial system.
Nobody can or should prohibit people from expressing their disagreement, their opinions regarding a court ruling. Openness of a trial is an inseparable part of a fair justice system. However, discrediting a court of law and the judiciary branch, which is often done for private gain, is also inadmissible. We have an entire set of issues here that require a broad public discussion.
I believe you can make a significant, if not decisive contribution to their resolution by adding these issues to the agenda of the next Congress of Judges.
Colleagues, I would like to highlight the task of trial jury reform, which was set forth in the Address to the Federal Assembly in December of last year.
Obviously, the current system of selecting the jury is far from perfect, as you well know. Why should there be 12 people on a jury? Why not 20 or 25, 10 or 7? There is no scientific validation of the fact that the fairness of a verdict and the efficiency of our system depend on the number of jury members. The most important thing is to ensure that a maximum number of citizens can chose this form of justice. However, last year alone the number of cases tried by a jury dropped by 50 percent. This only shows the inefficiency of this institute in its current state.
I believe it is necessary to expand the sphere of activity of courts involving a jury to the level of regional courts. Of course, we realise that this is linked to financial costs as well. However, I believe many will agree that we must be ready to incur these expenses if we want to enhance our judicial system and ensure its influence on the activity of state institutions, which, in turn, would become more efficient so that our economy can become healthier. It is important to perform all the necessary calculations and arrive at a balanced decision.
Another issue is the proposed decriminalisation of a number of articles in the Criminal Code. It is of principal importance that the initiative to transfer certain offences that do not pose a serious threat to society and were committed for the first time to the category of administrative offenses comes from the judicial community. As you may know, I expressed support for this initiative in my Address. You know better than anyone else the negative effect a criminal record can have on a person’s life, even for those who were not sentenced to imprisonment.
A relevant draft law was submitted to the State Duma last December. However, so far it has evoked a mixed response. Some experts believe that the decriminalisation of these Criminal Code articles would lead to an increase in domestic violence. Let us not forget here that liberalisation should apply only to those citizens who commit their first and only offence, while a repeated similar offence should lead to criminal liability.
I am willing to admit that some offenders who begin by committing a minor crime may break the law again in the future. Such logic and such a course of events are quite possible. However, we must admit that this is not the only possible course of events in this case. Incidentally, this is supported by court statistics as well. Why then should the majority suffer because of a number of possible individual cases?
I believe that people who make a mistake and break the law should be given a chance to remain in the healthy part of society without subjecting them to judicial and legal prosecution, without burdening them with a criminal record.
I will not list all the arguments and complaints against this draft law. Part of them may be reasonable and we should consider them and treat them as a necessary part of the debate on an important draft law. However, putting off its adoption could have serious, even grave consequences for hundreds of thousands of people and deny them the opportunity to correct their mistake and return to normal life.
Colleagues, I would like you to pay special attention to the protection of our citizens’ labour rights. The number of labour disputes in courts is growing and the employee is usually the most vulnerable party.
I regularly meet with trade union leaders; I had such a meeting only recently. The head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions drew our attention to this yet again. The state and primarily the courts should ensure every possible guarantee of employees’ rights. I believe we have created the necessary conditions for this through free initiation of legal proceedings, reduced terms of consideration for cases of re-employment and the possibility of immediate enforcement of a court ruling.
Another pressing issue is to create a barrier in the way of those who use legal proceedings as a weapon in corporate disputes, conflicts or squabbles, as they say, or in order to seize property. I know that you are now drafting a Supreme Court Plenary Session resolution regarding criminal persecution of businesspeople.
Clearly – and I would like to stress this – it does not mean that we should demonstrate some special greater leniency to businessmen. Everyone must be equal before the law. However, due to the complicated nature of entrepreneurial activity, the risks that accompany it and, we have to openly admit it – not always precise and perfect legal norms regulating business matters, it is often not easy to see where criminal prosecution is justified, and where the law is abused under the pretext of combatting violations. We must do everything to ensure that such cases are ruled out as much as possible and to create conditions for free and safe business activities. This is a common job for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Incidentally, after a meeting with the head of one of our business associations, Mr Shokhin, we agreed that a working group would be set up with the involvement of the Presidential Executive Office to analyse law enforcement practice, to discuss matters necessary for legislative and executive decisions. I would like to inform you that today I signed instructions regarding a working group to monitor law enforcement in business activities. It does not include representatives of the judicial branch; this is a separate branch, but I would like the Supreme Court Chairman to follow the work of this group and provide it with necessary support.
Finally, about the human resources policy and requirements to candidates to judicial posts. I believe that special attention here should be given to fighting corruption and preventing conflicts of interest. Those judges who have any interests that prevent them from meeting the requirements of the existing legislation or the Judicial Ethics Code should look for a different place to apply their knowledge and efforts.
Colleagues, I would like to ask you as court chairmen to be more actively involved in the staffing of courts. We still have quite a few vacancies, inadmissibly many in fact, especially within the commercial court system. At the same time, there is a sufficient number of highly qualified legal experts worthy of becoming federal judges.
For your information, every tenth court of arbitration judge post is vacant; at the start of the year we were 525 people short.
I would like to wish you success in your work – both at this conference and in your daily professional activities.
Thank you for your attention. Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Lebedev [Russian Federation Supreme Court Chairman], colleagues,
I will not go into detail or repeat things. I would like to say a few general, maybe trivial, but very important things.
We all know that a ruling passed by a judge and the court crowns the efforts of the entire law enforcement system: the Interior Ministry, or the Federal Security Service, or other law enforcement agencies, and the investigative agencies. This, of course, requires a high level of professionalism, because the responsibility is great.
This may concern a dispute between the state and an individual, or between two individuals, or between an individual and the state. As I have said, the efficiency of the entire state system depends on this, as well as the creation of a favourable climate in the economy that lies at the basis of the nation’s economic success. It is always a dispute.
You are always at the core of this conflict, and this requires stability, knowledge, experience, including personal experience, and simply psychological stability. This is a special occupation, if not to say a special mission. I would like to thank you for your work. My special thanks go to the Supreme Court Chairman for what he is doing to enhance the judicial system and conduct the reforms we spoke of today.
I would like to wish you success. Thank you very much.