Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Our meeting is being held in the days of the international conference on the problems of justice. I know that the most authoritative representatives of the international legal community, scholars and politicians are taking part in the conference.
I believe that such a broad composition, and the very format of discussion, will help to analyse the problems of the judicial power in Russia, and international judicial power in full, including such basic themes as ensuring the right of citizens to legal protection, general approaches to the formation of an effective system of justice, the manning of the judges' corps, and so on.
Questions relating to the work of the judicial system always evoke a heightened public interest.
Judicial reform in Russia is today our major political priority, a strategic task on the accomplishment of which we are now working in the most active manner.
An independent and impartial court is the legal security of citizens. It is a fundamental condition in the development of a sound, competitive economy. Finally, it is respect for the state itself, faith in the power of the law and in the power of justice.
A study and generalisation of international legal practice is one of the methods to objectively analyse both the strong and weak aspects of the legislative judicial system as such. Over the last ten years, the people of Russia have accumulated a considerable experience of legal transformations. Of course, some miscalculations are bound to occur in large-scale judicial and legal building. Therefore, it is exclusively important for us to interpret the travelled road now, and make necessary corrections. To get rid, as they say, of ”growth problems“.
We also encounter questions of relevance to states with already established legal and judicial systems.
Among them are the independence and objectivity of a court, the accessibility of justice, above all accessibility for citizens, the rendering of legal assistance to citizens, and control over the execution of judicial decisions.
Close international legal cooperation should help provide an effective solution to these tasks. This is precisely the aim of your conference, whose work in Russia Mr Wolfensohn and I discussed approximately half a year ago.
I want to thank you all for having found the opportunity of coming to Russia and I want to wish you success.
ANSWER to the question about the death penalty, and its application or non-application in Russia:
You know that Russia has acceded to the appropriate protocol. It is, I think, the Sixth Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the application of the death penalty as a measure of prosecution in time of peace.
Today's public opinion polls in the country show that the overwhelming majority of those polled favour a return of this measure of punishment, or, as was earlier customary to say here, the sole penalty or capital punishment. And I must tell you that I understand these people. Understand, because our country is at a very complicated stage of its development. One may say at a critical stage of development.
Many moral values of the old period of time are lost, and new ones are rather slowly taking their place in the hearts and souls of the people. In addition, Russia has become a victim of attacks by bands of international terrorists. Very many of our citizens have died at the hands of these militants. When you look at this, you want to do everything to get the criminals exposed, caught and prosecuted.
I am not afraid or ashamed to say to this audience that sometimes I feel that I could strangle them with my own hands. But that, of course, is only an emotion.
As a person with a basic legal education, received within the walls of St Petersburg University, I know perfectly well, and am confident that any lawyer and those present in this hall know this, a toughening of punishment does not by itself lead to the eradication of crime unfortunately, no matter how much we wouldn't want that. It would be a very simple decision, but this, unfortunately, is not so.
You and I know well that in some countries, in different times, even in case of a very insignificant law violation, say pick pocketing, the death penalty used to be prescribed and a public execution. And most pick pocketing would occur precisely on the squares during those public executions. Because the conditions were favourable, crowds of people used to gather.
If the thesis is correct, according to which we most suffer from the evil which resides inside us, then it can be said we do so by toughening the punishment.
And the death penalty is essentially not a punishment, it is more like revenge on the part of the state; so by toughening the punishment the state does not remove cruelty, but only engenders it again and again. The state must not appropriate the right which can only belong to the Most High – to deprive people of their lives. Therefore I can tell you firmly: I am against the restoration of the death penalty in Russia.
Question: Does the population of Russia support your reforms?
Vladimir Putin: The government should bring home to the public the need for new instruments in the field of the law, and above all in the economic field, in a clear and understandable way. I am sure we are on the right track.
Every Russian wants to live in an effectively developing country. And the overwhelming majority of them understand that this cannot be achieved without modernising the economy, social services or the judiciary.
I have already mentioned the measures we are taking, but they are not the only things we are doing. We have planned and are making preparations for a revision of the pension system. Parliament just wound up debates on and adopted a new Labour Code in a first reading.
In replying to your question, I would like to add the following: 18 months ago, when we planned reform, we came to the conclusion that we should concentrate on the economy and social affairs. But we found out we could not do that unless we strengthened the powers of government, unless we improved the very mechanism of decision-making. And so, in the first stage, last year, we focused on the establishment of the so-called vertical power structures, starting in effect to strengthen our state. That was consonant with our decisions to form the upper house of Parliament on new principles, to establish federal districts, and so on.
After that job was completed this year, we switched over to the problems themselves. I will mention only some of them to give you a general picture of Russia. I would like to note that the reason why we are doing so is not that we are impatient, but that practice and life show it is useless and perhaps impossible to deal with one reform separately from another.
Therefore, today we are actively continuing the tax reform, as I have already said. In addition to adopting the lowest profits tax in Europe — 24% — we have also decided to abolish all kinds of perks and benefits.
You, as President of the World Bank understand, and we have discussed it time and again, that this is a movement towards a transparent and civilised economy. Meanwhile, we are also working actively on the problem that constitutes the subject of discussion at the current conference: a judicial reform and a vast package of questions on how to improve the justice system. I would like to reiterate that we regard it as one of the basic objectives both in the economy and in state development.
Finally, we have prepared and are now running a military reform. It will call for considerable efforts on the part of the administrative machine and Parliament, and require sizeable financial injections. We want our army to be compact-sized, effective and task-oriented, especially in matters of national security.
Then there is the land reform, which I have already described. We have also adopted a Land Code in a first reading.
Now to the customs reform. We continue improving our customs systems. A good deal has been done, and the effect has been very positive, even more than we expected. We will carry on in the same spirit.
The work continues, and Parliament is already conducting readings of the document, with plans for a structural reforming of major Russian monopolies. You know them, these are the national power grid Unified Energy Systems, Gazprom, the Ministry of Railways, and some others.
Now the updating of the banking system. This is a key area of our activity and we are only at the beginning of the road, but we are maintaining this discussion and pursuing the appropriate measures with the Central Bank’s management. Here we must be most accurate and precise, but we will move on.
I have said on several occasions and am prepared to repeat my words here once again that if one or two measures of this kind were conceived and effected in any other country during the tenure of an elected head of state or government, that would be considered a fairly good result.
Here, as you see, we have more such measures. Practice suggests that if we want to be effectual, if we want everything to function well, we should act over a wider front.
You have mentioned the struggle against poverty as one of the main problems of today. The World Bank does a lot to contribute to the effort, and we have discussed this theme many times. Unfortunately, developed countries that set these tasks before them are not coping well with the problem. It is a fact that poverty is growing and so is its explosive potential. What is more, it manifests itself in different regions of the world. You said the key to solving many problems is control of poverty. I agree absolutely. And in order to solve these problems, including in Russia, we are planning all those measures which I have just mentioned.