The congress is taking place in Moscow on December 17–19, 2012 and features over 700 delegates, including representatives of Russian supreme courts, federal courts of general jurisdiction, arbitration and military courts, and justices of the peace.
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Speech at the All-Russian Congress of Judges
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends, colleagues,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome the delegates and guests of the All-Russian Congress of Judges.
The Congress of Judges is definitely a highly significant event in our country’s public life. Proposals to improve the courts’ work are developed here, but the Congress is also a venue for discussions on the effective protection of the rights, liberties, dignity and property of millions of our fellow citizens.
There are many unresolved issues and you often come under criticism for that, sometimes rightly, sometimes excessively. There are always problems, especially in such complex work as yours. However, we must recognise the positive changes that have taken place in the Russian judicial system in recent years.
The quality of legal proceedings has been improving along with people's trust in the justice system and the judiciary. The growing number of cases also testifies to this because, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, when people do not trust the courts, they turn to various protection rackets. Once confidence in the courts increases, so does the number of cases. We will come back to this issue. I consider trust in the judiciary to be of paramount importance for the country, for the whole of Russian society.
We have nearly completed the judicial reform, which combines Russia’s historical experience and international best practice.
I remember that at the last Congress you said that the most painful problems were the lack of transparency in the courts’ work, the duration of legal proceedings and delays in implementing court decisions. Naturally, all of this reduced the efficiency of the justice system. In the past four years, the situation has improved significantly. The Federal Law On Compensation for the Violation of the Right to Trial within a Reasonable Time or the Right to Judgement Enforcement within a Reasonable Time has been adopted. As a result, the enforcement proceedings have improved greatly, as well as the overall quality of the courts’ work. Most importantly, the guarantees of judicial protection of human rights have been strengthened.
You also raised the issue of introducing free legal aid for vulnerable social groups. The relevant law has already come into force. In addition, we have adopted effective measures to prevent corruption in the judicial system and to improve the mechanisms of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The introduction of a full-scale appellate review of judicial decisions is an important innovation. I am sure you remember how many arguments and debates this issue provoked. But our judicial system quickly adopted the procedure for reviewing decisions in civil cases. I have no doubt that board of appeals for criminal cases will work just as effective from January 1, 2013.
The judicial system is a crucial institute that affects millions of lives. That is why it is essential to prevent miscarriages of justice, to fight corruption and arrogance. Unprofessionalism, bias and violation of ethical standards are not just that discredit individual judges: they undermine public confidence in the entire judicial system.
Time has shown that the introduction of appeals was an absolutely necessary measure that served to strengthen the protection of our citizens’ rights. I think it is important that the institute was created with the constructive cooperation of the judiciary, the entire state system, experts, the public and our European partners.
This is a case when other countries’ experience has helped us to build a more efficient system, to form an effective tool for the correction of judicial errors, prevent the adoption of unjust laws, and to set a new framework for legal proceedings.
The most important achievement of our judicial system is the increase in its openness. The law on access to information about courts’ activities guarantees that individuals and organisations can obtain virtually all the information about courts.
Incidentally, there is not a single judicial system anywhere in the world that can boast such openness. We need not look far to find examples. Some EU countries don’t even have websites dedicated to this purpose. In some countries a single website contains only those court rulings that have particular public importance, and that is all.
I ask you to continue to work actively with the media. It is essential that we build a competent and impartial community of court journalists. By the way, we can learn a great deal from the experience of the previous years and previous centuries. In the 19th century, for example, one of the results of the judicial reform implemented as part of the great transformations was the emergence of a very strong and influential body of court reporters.
A few more issues and challenges that I would like to mention.
The first priority is to complete the adoption of administrative legal proceedings, to adopt as soon as possible the relevant legal code and establish judicial bodies that will settle disputes between individuals and state bodies or local authorities.
We all understand the meaning of and the philosophy behind administrative legal proceedings. Initially it focused on the protection of citizens. In particular, the burden of proof here lies with the state agency, not the individual.
Next. I know that excessive workload remains a severe problem for judges. We have been searching for a solution for many years. We have adopted the necessary instruments for pre-trial and extra-judicial dispute resolution. However, they are being introduced weakly and reluctantly, to be frank, while your workload continues to grow. We must think together about what can be done to lessen the burden on the courts, and I am sure that the Congress will formulate its proposals in this regard. It is not right for the judges to have such enormous workloads. This contributes to poorer quality of court rulings. What else could we expect when you can’t see the judge behind the mountain of cases, when the judge is always working under stress. Of course, this increases the likelihood of a miscarriage of justice and civil rights violations.
Another important issue is the Code of Judicial Ethics, which should spell out in detail the standards of judicial conduct and offer different responses for a variety of situations, including when there is a conflict of interest. The adoption of the Code is on the Congress’ agenda. I see it as a positive sign that the judges themselves worked on this project along with civil society and sought to define more stringent ethical and professional rules.
Now a few words about the judges’ pay, which should certainly reflect their noble mission and huge responsibility. A civilised legal state should not skimp on the judicial system, including the salaries. Overall, the level of wages is quite high nationwide, especially if you compare it to what we do, say, in the field of defence. It is quite comparable.
Your professional and moral duty is to be objective and impartial, to have a thorough knowledge of the law and the law enforcement practice, there is always a real person behind the dry legal norms.
In the next few days, the Federation Council will review and hopefully approve the law that establishes a new remuneration system from January 1, 2013. This draft law was also discussed in detail with the judicial community and the leadership of the Supreme Courts. The remuneration will depend on the judges’ professional level, working conditions, the workload and academic degrees.
The number of judges’ qualification classes will increase from six to ten. This will make the payment system more flexible, differentiated and fair. It will encourage highly qualified lawyers to become judges and will strengthen judicial independence. Most importantly, and I pointed this out to the legislators, these new solutions will not lead to the infringement of anyone’s rights or a decrease in the existing judges’ salaries. We will see improvements across the board and no one should be at a disadvantage.
In conclusion, I want to emphasise that judicial system is a crucial institute that affects millions of lives. That is why it is essential to prevent miscarriages of justice, to fight corruption and arrogance. Unprofessionalism, bias and violation of ethical standards are not just personal failures that discredit individual judges: they undermine public confidence in the entire judicial system, the government and the state.
We all know the constant pressure you are under in your professional lives, the atmosphere of conflict, problems, and at times tragedy and grief. That is the permanent background of your work. At the same time you have no right to feel irritated or dispirited. This is a heavy burden indeed. It's hard work.
Your professional and moral duty is to be objective and impartial, to have a thorough knowledge of the law and the law enforcement practice, to take into consideration the most subtle nuances of each case. There is always a real person behind the dry legal norms.
Only then will legality, truth and justice prevail. Yours is not only responsible and demanding work, but also a noble civil mission. I want to thank you for your efforts and wish you success in the work of the Congress. Since it is unlikely we will meet again in this format before the New Year, I want to congratulate you and your families on the upcoming holidays. All the best to you.