Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Today’s conference – and it is more than a meeting of the Collegium, it is an All-Russia Conference – falls on your professional holiday. It will actually be tomorrow and I hope that you haven’t yet started the celebrations so we will be able to discuss all the problems that face the prosecutor’s office today in a constructive manner.
In addition to discussing day-to-day problems, you will discuss the strategy of the development of the prosecutor’s office. The place and role of the Russian prosecutor’s office in the system of government bodies has been widely discussed in society and in the media lately.
The Constitution of the Russian Federation has left open the question of the place of the prosecutor’s office in the system of government bodies. Unfortunately, the current law on the prosecutor’s office does not fully fill that gap. The current concept fails to provide a full and clear answer to theoretical and indeed many practical questions. Prosecutors themselves are known to differ on how to tackle these questions. So I think that this conference and the choice of the key topic of discussion are very timely and appropriate.
The Russian prosecutor’s office has deep roots that go back to the times of Peter the Great, Catherine II and the reforms of Alexander II. To be a prosecutor today is a challenging job, as we know only too well. Often the prosecutor’s office is held responsible for the woes and faults of the whole law enforcement system. There is a reason for that: its vast functions and strong supervisory powers naturally lead the prosecutor’s office to try to compensate for the weaknesses of the system of law and order in our country.
But I am sure that you understand the situation in the country and in society. In the heat of public polemics the prosecutor’s office is sometimes described as a hangover from the totalitarian times, and these accusations have been levelled for several years now. People recall the times when the prosecutor’s office authority was used to cover up lawlessness in the country. But it would be relevant to recall that at the time lawlessness was rampant in the country, the authority of the courts and the authority of the whole state machine was also used as a cover. Those times are history.
We have long been living in a different country; and the prosecutor’s office is constantly improving, it is not standing still. Changes in the prosecutor’s office meet the goals of democratisation of the legal and law enforcement system in Russia. Besides, they smooth the contradictions between the legal systems of Russia and those of our international partners.
Among the many areas in the work of the prosecutor’s office one stands out: the coordination of the work of law enforcement bodies on crime control. That function is closely linked with other areas of activity: criminal investigation, oversight of preliminary investigation and inquests. Of course, coordination of efforts in fighting crime should be less a departmental than a government concern, and it should be done within the law.
But until such an approach has been worked out – and one has to admit that it is not unfortunately the case – the prosecutor’s office has to compensate for that drawback. No one else is up to the task today, and this is a function of the prosecutor’s office under the law. That is why the prosecutor’s office bears a large part of the responsibility for coordinated teamwork of all the law enforcement bodies in the country.
I am aware that your workload exceeds all reasonable limits. By the way, I see some vacant seats in the gallery, so we could give thought to increasing the number of prosecutors.
But I would like you to join other law enforcement bodies in analysing the crime situation and forecasting the crime trends. It is important for us to know the true crime situation in the country.
It is not for nothing that prosecutors are referred to as the soldiers of law and order. Like military people, you take your oath, and it is not by chance that almost all of you wear uniforms. You are often treated in the same way as military men and security men. We recognise the strength of the prosecutor’s office in upholding legality in the country. The performance of the prosecutor’s office adds to the authority of state power which is obliged to provide secure conditions of life for every Russian citizen.
Today the human rights aspect comes to the fore in the work of the prosecutor’s office. We have tended to talk about human rights more than to actually defend them. In fact, he who talks the most often does the least. The prosecutors belong to that part of the government apparatus who speak less, but do more, and must do still more. You have vast room for improvement.
As far as I know, during the past year more than 2 million Russians have filed complaints on these issues with the prosecutor’s office, and one in every four complaints has been met. We know that one of the most frequent complaints with which people come to the prosecutor’s office is violation of citizens’ rights in matters of labour and housing. Your good work in this field undoubtedly strengthens the confidence of Russian citizens in the power and justice of the state. This is a key area of the prosecutor’s office activities.
Another important task we face is to strengthen the state, its federal system and to preserve the legal and economic integrity of the country. The prosecutor’s office, as a supervisory body, has vast opportunities for influencing law-making and law enforcement practices in the Russian regions. The dedication of the prosecutors claims much of the credit for the fact that last year Russian legislation has been cleansed of unconstitutional laws or laws and regulations that contradict federal laws.
The Constitutions and Charters of the 60 regions of the Federation and 2,312 regulatory acts have been harmonised with the Russian Constitution and federal laws. It is incredible how we managed to exist normally in a situation when there was no normal existence. But law-making is an ongoing process, as you know better than anyone. So the prosecutor’s office must continue to promptly identify every regional regulatory act that contradicts federal legislation.
Besides, the review of the body of laws has so far left untouched the decisions of local government bodies and departmental instructions. One has to admit that some federal legislation does not always correspond to the laws and Constitution of Russia, as many regional leaders have rightly pointed out. To be quite honest, we have to admit that the backlogs we have had to clear last year did not arise in the summer of last year. Which means that we have been derelict in our duties over the past years. I hope you all understand that what we have accomplished last year is only the beginning of a systematic and consistent effort.
The Prosecutor General’s Office Directorates in the federal districts have an important role to play in coordinating the activities of regional prosecutor’s offices, especially on issues of compliance with the Constitution and Russian legislation, and human and civil rights. The early months of the work in the districts show that you are well equipped to produce results in this sphere.
I am aware that some prosecutors have been demanding more powers, especially in connection with the formation of districts. I think that, as the saying goes, “stealing the show” is not always the best way to tackle problems. To assume responsibility for everything is hardly a reasonable approach, and even such a powerful and authoritative organisation as the prosecutor’s office is unable to stop all the gaps in the Russian legal system.
It is far more important to make up our minds on priorities and strategy. I think that in addition to the priorities I have already mentioned, special attention should be paid to protecting property, both private and state property, to protecting the rights of businessmen and enforcing the laws that protect economic freedom. Today all the signs are that the development of the Russian economy, without exaggeration, hinges on the prosecutor’s office and the work of law courts.
To cope with the tasks facing the prosecutor’s office today requires a high level of skills. There are some things that only you can do: it is up to the prosecutor to produce a full and well-argued statement of indictment, it is the prosecutor who draws on the work of investigators and operatives, so one of the immediate tasks is to make the activities of prosecutors in supporting state prosecution in courts more effective.
There are serious flaws in this work at present. Often the functions of the state prosecutor are performed by people who are not fit to work in the public sphere, to which the law court belongs. The task of supporting the case for the prosecution is often given at the eleventh hour, and still more often prosecutors are not present during court hearings. As a result the failure of the prosecution allows people who have broken the law to walk away free. So, evil goes unpunished and justice does not triumph.
I am dwelling on this problem in some detail because the judiciary reform cannot be effective without an active involvement of the prosecutors in the court proceedings. Moreover, improvement of the court system should proceed in parallel with improvement of the prosecutor’s office work.
I am sure that the prosecutor’s office has been and remains a key pillar of the Russian law enforcement system. And I am sure that your expertise and sense of responsibility will match the new challenges facing the country.
Once again I congratulate you warmly on your professional holiday and I wish you and your families all the best in the new year.