Vladimir Putin: You are about to discuss some acute and truly pressing problems. They include complicated legal problems and the practical problems of the judiciary system. Most of them are relevant to the improvement of the court system.
The court is not just the sphere of your professional activity. It is a state institution whose work directly affects the fate of millions of people.
The judiciary is one of the three constitutional branches of power. The Constitution says in black and white that the courts in the Russian Federation, like the President, the Federal Assembly and the Government, exercise state power in the country. And we have to be able to make effective use of this huge power. Use it in a way that enhances the authority of the Government and trust on the part of the people. And in general, to the judiciary must enhance the prestige of the country.
Serious shifts and important changes have taken place in recent years in the sphere of state development and the emergence of democratic institutions and in the economy. Changes have taken place in the judiciary system. Our task today is to look at the new qualities that system has acquired and what still hinders its development. Without it we cannot move forward. It is not surprising that the problems of the judiciary attract keen public interest and attention.
The courts influence all aspects of the life of society. Their competence covers all the affairs of the state without exception, everything that has to do with the rights, freedoms and interests of the ordinary citizen.
Any person may sooner or later face a court ruling, and what is more, a court ruling that may change his or her life. So we all want our courts to deliver justice that is “swift, right and fair”.
Today many Russian citizens turn to the courts. We know what they are letting themselves in for. You know it better than any of us. Is justice ever swift? Everybody knows that many cases drag on for years. And as our predecessors used to say, very often justice “languishes in court”.
Besides, court proceedings cost money, often a lot of money. I am concerned about citizens above all. They are required to pay. So, not everyone can afford to seek redress in court. The time has come to envisage budget financing of legal defence services to help those who cannot afford to pay their lawyers. In any case, that duty should cover a larger number of people.
Obviously, your workload is not light. The courts handle more than 5 million civilian, more than a million criminal and nearly 2 million administrative offence cases every year. Arbitration courts are just as heavily loaded.
The workload of judges has increased by three times in the last six years. It exceeds all norms and sometimes is the cause of judicial errors and superficial or careless handling of cases.
Failure to meet the deadlines for considering cases is the most acute issue, as I have already said. At present, 3,226 people have been in pre-trial detention for between one and two years awaiting a ruling. Four hundred people have been in pre-trial detention for two to three years and 41 people have been awaiting trial for more than three years. Explanations of course can be found. But that does not make it any easier for the people awaiting a verdict.
The institution of justices of the peace may go some way to solve this problem. But the justices of the peace at present exist only in 33 regions in the country. And they are understaffed, they have only 19.5% of the statutory staff. And in the metropolises that process has not even started. It is odd and lamentable because there are more opportunities there and the load on judges is too heavy.
Obviously, there are not enough judges in our country, their number falls short of the needs of the state. But you know as well as I do that there are many vacancies. Most lawyers, unfortunately, are not exactly eager to become judges.
And this is not only because of the low salaries or “bad laws”. The prestige of the profession is not yet high enough. And yet quite recently, when I was finishing university, we were all eager to become judges, it was a very prestigious profession.
Of course, financing of the courts is a challenge for the Government and we are well aware of it. This year, the programme of financing the judiciary system has practically been fulfilled. Many acute issues that interfered with the judges’ work have been solved.
Salaries are paid regularly. At any rate, they are regularly sent by the Finance Ministry to the corresponding agencies. We try to increase salaries. A couple of days ago a decree was signed to raise the salaries of judges and prosecutors by 1.2 times.
Next year, we will continue to strengthen the financial base of the judiciary system, to improve the financial position of judges. The financing target should be increased by a third.
But if one considers the reform of the judiciary only in terms of the material outlays, it will remain stalled for a long time.
Speaking about the main result of the reform of the judiciary, I would like to stress that in spite of any problems, including those I mentioned earlier, an independent judiciary exists in Russia. We can and must record this fact. The basic parameters of the concept of the judiciary reform have been met.
Russia has a Constitutional Court and statutory courts in the regions of the Federation, general jurisdiction courts, military and arbitration courts. Just recently we marked the third anniversary of the recreation of the institution of court bailiffs. We have trial by jury, if only in several regions. We have 1,066 justices of the peace who administer justice.
We have started restoring the judiciary system in the Chechen Republic. That is a very important step. And I very much hope that it will help to normalise the situation in that region of Russia.
Of course, our judiciary system still has many flaws, both chronic and newly acquired. But this is no reason for proposing “another sweeping and radical” restructuring of the system. I think it is more useful – from the practical and the national points of view – to complete what we have set out to do and to achieve effective work of what is already established and working. I think it is a more helpful approach than smashing the entire system.
But one can hardly overlook the fact that the aggressiveness and determination that marked the start of the reform have faded and have partly become routine, and the effort is already getting bogged down in bickering between departments.
It should also be recognised that people, ordinary citizens and society as a whole, often have a very low opinion of the work of the courts. Many factors contribute to this. There are long queues in reception areas, poor standard of office work and elementary lack of organisation. That situation cannot be tolerated. We should all foster respect for the courts and their rulings.
The shortcomings and mistakes of our court system fuel mistrust of the law. Opinion polls have revealed that people increasingly try to avoid complicated court proceedings. They are afraid of being “railroaded into jail”. The most dangerous thing is that they lose respect for the law.
We should improve not only the procedure of selecting candidates for judges, but also the procedure of appointing and dismissing them. A normal system based on competition should select the best candidates.
Clearly, the judiciary branch does not yet have a complete and modern legal basis. Lack of modern procedural legislation is the main problem. Work on procedural legislation has lasted for years and current legislation is hopelessly outdated. Some articles are known to contravene the Constitution. All that undoubtedly complicates your work.
Along with procedural legislation, many other laws are long overdue. For example, the law on insolvency and bankruptcy is sometimes used to bankrupt essentially healthy companies. A lack of proper regulations in these spheres is used by narrow corporate interest groups to pursue their selfish ends. That, it has to be admitted, is a brake on the country’s economic development. And more and more often the forums of various levels and quality, along with economic restructuring problems raise the issues of improving the judiciary, a key element of the country’s economic development.
Today, we face a much more formidable challenge than a simple reform of the judiciary system. We have to reverse the kind of attitude to the law courts that we have just discussed. We must prove that the court is the place to go to seek justice. People should come to believe the courts as a branch of power, an absolutely just branch of power.