President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Zorkin, colleagues,
I would like to congratulate you once again on the 25th anniversary of the Constitutional Court. I would like to thank the judges of the Constitutional Court for the enormous, very important job that you do.
In fact, I do not need to say anything extra about your work. Evaluating all our regulatory acts and laws to ensure that they are constitutional is what makes it possible to legislate effectively.
I am not referring only to lawmakers but also to executive bodies. When the Government or ministries and departments adopt decisions, the question of their constitutionality is very often raised and discussed. As Mr Zorkin [Chairman of the Constitutional Court] can tell you that I call him maybe not every day but fairly often to ask what he thinks about some regulation that is going to be adopted by legislators or the Government. In any event, this helps to reveal the potential of our Constitution, which is very important.
I would like to emphasise the importance of the Constitutional Court’s decisions on human rights. The Constitution guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law. However, there is also a broad constitutional framework that formulates clear requirements for the protection of the rights of citizens and their responsibility for their words and actions. These norms are a foundation for consolidating society and understanding that justice is about the balance between private and public interests.
I would like to stress that patriotism is inspired not just by love for one’s country, but also by the state’s respect for individuals and their dignity, not to mention the care citizens show for their country, the mutual responsibility of the state and people for each other. It is these values that the Constitutional Court upholds with clarity and sound reasoning. I would like to thank you for this.
As we traditionally do at our meetings ahead of Constitution Day, I suggest we have a more informal discussion. Of course, I would like to ask Mr Zorkin to say a few words first.
Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin: Mr President, thank you for making it a tradition to devote some time to us. It is a great honour and a great responsibility for us.
If you would allow me, I was entrusted by the judges to start this address by presenting you with a collection of our rulings of 2015. Because sometimes people think the Constitutional Court only issues two or three rulings a year.
As of December 1 this year, we had received some 13,000 complaints and issued around 3,300 orders and rulings. Of course, it is still a small number but I think it is commensurate with the productivity of other courts in the world. Let us say that the US Supreme Court issues 70 rulings a year while we only do 30 to 35. This is in proportion to the population. We must also remember that the US court performs certain functions of a supreme court on oversight matters. However, I am not presenting these court rulings to show that we are working hard. After all, we could have issued twice as many rulings.
In fact, the intense work has more to do with the difficulties that present themselves all the time, because there are always some issues, especially when there is new legislation involved or problems in our relations with Europe, for example. Of course, the Court is not a political body but the measures that were taken, the pressure and the sanctions are affecting the judicial system as well. It is only natural that it affects our work.
For example, the Baltic state of Lithuania – which is now a depositary of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice that gathers every three years – sent us a letter stating that judges of the Constitutional Court pose a threat to the security of Lithuania.
Vladimir Putin: Which judges? Our judges?
Valery Zorkin: Judges of the Russian Constitutional Court.
Vladimir Putin: Ah, so they finally caught you?
Valery Zorkin: So now we cannot go to the conference. And it occurred to me to suggest, Mr President, that we hold this world conference here because we will not ban anyone from participating. Amazing things happen sometimes.
However, I think this is all quite superficial. After all, it was not Germany or Austria or Italy that banned us. So we still maintain our traditionally strong positions on the international scene. Why am I saying this? Because we are not isolated from the rest of the world. We do not live in a vacuum.
Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, but what prompted such an, I have to say, idiotic conclusion?
Valery Zorkin: Our ruling on Crimea. They believe we violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine and made the wrong decision.
I report to you our common line as the ruling was unanimous. I cannot disclose the confidential discussions in our chambers, but of course, some of us had specific opinions on the matter. We approached the ruling as resolving matters of law. The people of Crimea expressed their will and nobody can, according to the UN Charter, claim that our ruling was incorrect. Lithuania thinks that we… Perhaps they think we will issue a ruling on Lithuania?
Vladimir Putin: Your ruling was based on the Russian Constitution.
Valery Zorkin: Of course.
Vladimir Putin: This is very strange. Sometimes I get the impression some people are visitors from another planet.
Valery Zorkin: I do not believe it will harm the Russian Constitutional Court. I think the decision will end up harming Lithuania.
Forgive the digression. In general, I wanted to say that we make decisions on practically all constitutional foundations of law but most of all on criminal procedures. We receive a host of complaints and make many decisions on adjusting criminal procedures.
I do not know whether the time has come to adopt a new code, this is for our lawmakers to decide, but we believe we should give our assessment of the existing standards. This is why it seems to me that I am expressing a common position of judges. I already said this at the congress.
We are grateful that you have submitted a draft law on adjustments linked with our resolutions. This allows us to adopt a resolution without destroying the law. We can give its constitutional interpretation in the correct constitutional sense. I believe this is respectful of our lawmakers, but we are doing this not only for their sake but also so as not to set in motion a huge machine, knowing the difficulties of the lawmaking process and law-enforcement practice. We are acting here not at random but considering various aspects of cooperation, for instance, with the Supreme Court.
I would like to emphasise once again why we are doing this – because in some countries, for example Hungary, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court are at war. They are fighting and issuing rulings on who is right and who is wrong. This ends badly for the state.
We must develop business relations. We try to conduct consultations on disputed issues. But how do we conduct them? Of course, within the framework of what is allowed rather than reaching some behind-the-scene agreements.
(Further Mr Zorkin spoke about the problems of constitutional and statutory courts in the regions of the Russian Federation.)
As for the foreign aspect of our work, our relations are developing successfully. We now have the Association of Asian Constitutional Courts and Equivalent Institutions. Russia is one of its founders. I think the time will come when we will host conventions. At that point, we will come to you for material aid.
Our judges are playing an active part in the work of this association. It conducts analytical and organisational work and holds advanced training courses for judges. Mr President, there is even a proposal to establish the Asian Court on Human Rights. It was made by Korea.
Vladimir Putin: Korea?
Valery Zorkin: Yes, South Korea. They are actively promoting this idea but I do not think it should be done by command. It is necessary for this idea to develop.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.