President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Zorkin, colleagues, good afternoon.
It gives me great pleasure to greet you all at our annual meeting and congratulate you on the upcoming holiday – Constitution Day. The Constitution genuinely functions in large part thanks to you, your work and the efforts you make. Its spirit and letter make themselves felt in every area of our lives.
Stable and enduring constitutional principles and norms are a key condition for our country’s successful development and consolidating our society. Your mission, if it can be so termed, and this is probably a fitting word, is to preserve and interpret our basic law, which is so important for our country’s present and future.
You know better than anyone that only an independent and confident nation can guarantee genuine protection of its citizens’ rights and freedoms. You know that only people’s proactive stance and involvement, their patriotism and real desire to take part in the country’s life bolster its strength and influence.
Interdependence and mutual obligations and responsibilities infuse the entire text of the Constitution, its sense, principles and values. The Constitutional Court affirms and supports this crucial balance in each of its decisions.
You are seeking and, most importantly, finding solutions for an optimal, reasonable balance between private and public interests. And at the same time, you are ineffably fulfilling one of the most important functions of the court: protecting citizens against the arbitrary use of power, from the risks pertaining to improper legal formulas or their arbitrary application, fully using your highest powers for this purpose – declaring the acts unconstitutional.
But at the same time, you are defending citizens from any arbitrary action on the part of the government – in any case, you are doing everything (and I will talk about this more later) to ensure this does not happen. Or if, God forbid, it happens, which I suppose it can, then you do everything to protect citizens’ rights. I think any individual who receives protection in the Constitutional Court understands, feels and sees that the government stands on the side of his rights, that his freedom and dignity are of the utmost value.
It may seem that over the past years, Constitutional Court judges have produced enough legal positions for decades ahead. Nevertheless, each of your decisions clearly shows new approaches, new boundaries and new mechanisms for protecting people’s rights and freedoms.
All of this strengthens trust in the court. Just this year, you received 14,159 appeals. Am I mistaken, Mr Zorkin [Chairman of the Constitutional Court]? There are more now? I see. And in the absolute majority of cases, these are complaints from citizens and their associations.
At each of our meetings, we discuss issues pertaining to executing decisions of the Constitutional Court. As far as I know, right now, this situation has a positive momentum, although I can see that according to statistical and other data, not all the problems in this area have been resolved. We must achieve unquestionable execution of decisions, and that is why I propose we touch on this topic during our talk today.
I want to hear about the systemic mistakes that are being tolerated by our legislators, areas where there is not enough keen legal methodology and culture, areas in law-making that have the most problems and what needs to be changed and corrected first and foremost.
I stress again that the most important value of the Basic Law is its sturdy legal foundation and stability. Our Constitution is reliably protected against unwarranted intrusions imposed by the immediate political situation.
However, the constitutional process is never “forever complete.” Sometimes, life itself demands amendments to the Basic Law. This happened last year, when in order to more fully ensure the principle of equality of all before the law, in order to harmonise certain problems that occurred in the work of two courts – the Supreme Court and the Supreme Arbitration Court – a decision was made to unite them.
It is clear that constitutional norms must be constantly analysed and adjusted to the rapidly changing realities, to study law enforcement practices and know how to look “beyond the horizon.” And here, it is impossible to overstate your input, colleagues, in the work of creating the so-called “living Constitution.” In interpreting the Basic Law, you enrich it. Textually, it remains as before, but with every year, thanks to the position of the Constitutional Court, the Constitution becomes more substantive and up-to-date.
Your analytical arsenal actively uses the principles and norms of not only international law, but also Russian law – the Russian constitutional doctrine and studies by our outstanding legal experts. As you know, I recently met with representatives of the human rights movement in light of Human Rights Day. They view the work of our legal system quite critically; there is nothing unusual about this, they are representatives of public organisations that react critically to any manifestations of injustice or improper execution of the law, and this does, unfortunately, happen: this happens in every country, including ours. But ultimately, you may have noticed, and I stated this earlier, I feel our legal and judicial system is one of most developed in the world – it is not without problems, of course, but ultimately, we are proud of our judicial system and, in particular, I want to talk about the judges of the Constitutional Court.
We are proud that the judges of our Constitutional Court are well-known, prestigious experts and scholars. You have many academic publications; you give speeches at conferences of the highest level. I would like to particularly note the work of the Constitutional Court and your creation of open platforms for harmonising positions between the authorities and society.
Today I also suggest, if you feel it would be beneficial, that we discuss ways to promote these ideas laid into the Constitution, our Basic Law. In addition, perhaps there are some organisational, technical questions pertaining to your work here in St Petersburg.
You know that we gave this a great deal of attention, and I suppose that for the most part, all the problems have been addressed, but if anything remains unresolved or if there are any problems that we did not notice earlier, then let’s talk about them.
I once again congratulate you on the upcoming holiday.