President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Zorkin, first of all let me congratulate you on Constitution Day.
The Constitution is the foundation of the entire legal system of the state, and the role of the Constitutional Court here, as the supreme constitutional control body, is of everlasting importance. Moreover, the updated Constitution has strengthened the role of the Constitutional Court even more.
Perhaps we will begin our talk with this, considering we have a good opportunity to congratulate each other during the meeting.
Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin: Thank you very much, Mr President.
I would like to congratulate you, too, because we know that the Constitution contains the word “guarantor” and the Constitutional Court, is still, I think, let me put like this, it is the guardian of the Constitution.
If I may, as per tradition, for many years now I have been presenting our selected decisions to you on behalf of the judges – they all signed here. But, since this year is not over, it is like a follow-up to the past.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Please pass my regards and greetings to your colleagues, too.
Valery Zorkin: Everyone asked me to wish you good health and thank you for the greetings we have received.
Vladimir Putin: Has the volume of work grown recently?
Valery Zorkin: It depends.
I would like to say that first of all, we are living under the sign of the updated Constitution, and this is the second year, which in fact imposes great obligations. Of course, we are trying to use the new provisions of the Constitution, for example, in the social sphere. It is very important.
The number of complaints has not increased, but the number of rulings has remained approximately the same.
Vladimir Putin: And the structure?
Valery Zorkin: For the first time, since December 1 we have had 11 Constitutional judges, as per the Constitution; the number has gradually decreased and now it complies with the Constitution.
These selected decisions will be in approximately the same proportion this year: there are more than 50 rulings that are the most important ones, and about 3,000 others are definitions. But I want to say what matters regarding all these decisions: after all, it is not the fate of just one citizen – Ivanov or Petrov – that is being decided, but every decision constitutes the fate of the law, whether it stays in force or not. If it remains, as interpreted by the Constitutional Court, then it is a great help to all legal practitioners.
You were speaking about difficulties – the existing difficulties, for example. Laws have become more professional, this is obvious. Let us take, for example, the tax legislation. In the 1990s, as I recall, we well-nigh held a plenary meeting on taxes. Today, we have perhaps fewer [sittings] on taxes than on other matters, like, for example, social rights, criminal law and the criminal process, civil law, property, contracts, etc. This seems to testify to the fact that the tax legislation has stabilised, unlike social law, which is always a problem, of course. Legislators obviously have much to think about in this area.
In general, however, I would like to say – I judge on the basis of the Constitutional Court’s proceedings – that Russia’s legislative system has become stable, balanced and more professional. Of course, there are always blemishes, the pabulum for the Constitutional Court. But I think that now we should lay greater emphasis on law enforcement, because we check not just the letter of the law but also take into consideration law enforcement practice. And that is where the trouble lies, as the saying goes.
Certainly, law enforcement has become more professional as well, but today we are mostly focusing on how the law is working in practice. We take our decisions as a whole. Of course, given the major amendments that have been introduced, the Constitutional Court has to absorb [the new norms] and transmit this into its decisions. The situation is not easy, because there are still many complaints.
But I would like to say that complaints themselves have become professional, along with laws and law enforcement. And this is not only because lawyers get involved in the process, but also because the Constitutional Court is in its fourth decade and at this stage people are obviously aware of what demands they can make on the Constitutional Court and what matters should be taken to their building-utilities administrator offices, or, say, to a general jurisdiction court, or their local police inspector.
Previously, all this was very vague. While in the 1990s, about a half of 19,000 applications were about things that had nothing to do with us at all, today the whole thing is more professional.
Vladimir Putin: This demonstrates people’s greater knowledge of the law.
Valery Zorkin: I think, yes, absolutely. The level of legal consciousness has risen, of course, and there are higher demands on us.
We recently conducted a survey to monitor public feedback regarding our work. We, too, need to know about this; we receive various letters, and so on. Our analysts suggested the following concept: all segments of society responding to us should be called “telescopes,” “microscopes” or “distorting mirrors.”
A “telescope” is quite clear: good things can be seen over a large distance. “Microscopes” are people who have decided to delve into the details, etc. It is easy to understand what “distorting mirrors” do. Nevertheless, I believe that the Constitutional Court can even benefit from these “distorting mirrors.”
In reality, the human rights situation is not so simple. We understand that Russia is moving forward, that all this is gradually becoming more solid, and that people are becoming more competent. However, there is no denying the fact that violations do exist.
Here is what I want to say about this third group. It may be surprising, but its members voice drastic opinions and sometimes speak straight from the shoulder, so to say. These people are lawyers accompanying those who file complaints, and they win from time to time.
Therefore, one would like to ask the following question: What kind of a court? Does it exist or not? I believe that it does exist, and this is what I think.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. It is very good that people win. This means the more professional the rulings are, the more people will trust the entire judicial system. It is therefore very important.
Valery Zorkin: Mr President, in this connection, I would like to say a few words about professionalism. Of course, we are not the only element of the judicial system, and there are also general jurisdiction courts.
I would like to take this opportunity and, instead of set phrases, I would like to say that I am sincerely convinced that we maintain professional relations with the Supreme Court, in the first place. You see, people come to us only after they have been to the Supreme Court. I would like to note that our relations are quite professional.
The Supreme Court respects our rulings. It would be possible to partially ignore some of these rulings, and we would engage in a tug-of-war in some cases. I have already noted this somewhere, and I have said that not all countries in transition have passed painlessly through this situation, there even were the so-called wars when it became necessary to …
Vladimir Putin: Court wars, right?
Valery Zorkin: Yes, legislators had to intervene and to decide whether the Constitutional Court’s authority or the Supreme Court’s authority should be trimmed or whether to merge the two courts.
Vladimir Putin: We faced the same problems in relations between the Commercial Court and the Supreme Court.
Valery Zorkin: I should say here that we maintain completely normal and business-like relations, and, by the way, the Constitution assists this process; all of its provisions are quite clear.