President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Valery Dmitrievich, we have often discussed the important issue of the effectiveness of the Constitutional Court and how its decisions are implemented. I know that this issue is perhaps one of the most topical, because the Constitutional Court must express its position on the most difficult, most complicated situations that exist in the country, on issues associated with the application of constitutional law, and issues concerning civil, administrative and state law more generally. But sometimes these decisions are not implemented as quickly and as comprehensively as one might assume, considering their importance. In my view this is a major problem. Let us discuss it and then we can talk about other things.
President of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin: Dmitry Anatolyevich, it’s certainly true that recently the number of complaints we have had to look at has increased. For some reason this has occurred since our move to St Petersburg.
Dmitry Medvedev: But this is actually a good thing. It shows that you are now more in touch with the people.
Valery Zorkin: More in touch and yet not further away from Russia. Life goes on beyond the Garden Ring [major circular road around the center of Moscow, Ed.].
We constantly find ourselves faced with certain problems, especially those concerning social rights, the rights of owners and entrepreneurs, as well as individual rights, especially those relating to the protection of rights in criminal proceedings. These issues have come before the Constitutional Court before, but now we are dealing with a lot of such complaints. There are an average of 17 thousand a year, which is unprecedented in comparison with other European constitutional courts. We don’t end up ruling on many of these complaints because these problems are resolved in the lower courts and only 3–5 percent come before the Constitutional Court. They really are crucially important for our legal system, as you so rightly said. Sometimes they seem trivial in terms of problems associated with global development, but every now and then they touch on a very important point in the legal system. Let me give you a recent example that has attracted the public’s attention: whether a man, a father, can receive childcare benefits instead of the mother. Or to take another example from a completely different sphere: how to deal with physical evidence that was seized during an investigation. Is it possible to sell these things or not, if they’re taking up space? Our law used to permit the sale of such things. In this particular case, the reason that it came before the Constitutional Court was that it was two helicopters being sold and that represents a lot of money. They weren’t returned to the owner, they weren’t put back in storage.
Dmitry Medvedev: And the question of compensation for damages came up.
Valery Zorkin: Of course. We should add another particular detail as well. I don’t want to say that this was happening everywhere, but you have to agree that it created an opportunity for the unscrupulous official to sell such expensive things at a bargain. Thus a corruption-creating loophole was created, as people would put it these days.
Dmitry Medvedev: You are President of the Constitutional Court, which means that you have to measure your words. I can put it more bluntly. Unfortunately, this sort of offence, this sort of crime, when objects like this are being used for one’s own sordid purposes, is fairly widespread. In fact, these substantial pieces of evidence are subject to a lot of manipulation. Often this disadvantages the owners of the physical evidence that has been seized and leads to the improper enrichment of those who engage in such things.
Valery Zorkin: I think it undermines the trust of the citizens in the state.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course. It actually undermines the credibility of the authorities.
Valery Zorkin: I can give you a third example. There are a lot of suburban areas in our country. They have become de facto mini-cities where homes have already been built – and not just small dachas either – but previously you could not register such a home as a place of your official residence. That is, they were not legally considered to be houses for permanent residence. This particular situation came to our Court, because it could not be resolved in any other way. The Constitutional Court ruled that this was wrong. But I am referring, of course, to the houses which are well-equipped and fit to be lived in. I think that this affects many people in Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: In fact, these are the decisions that fundamentally change judicial practice that goes back to the Soviet era when people really did build homes designed for permanent residence, but for a number of reasons could not register them as the places of their legal residence. And this affects the interests of tens, of hundreds of thousands of people. So that is of course a very significant decision. Maybe it has created some problems for local authorities, but ultimately the Constitutional Court is there to protect the interests of our citizens.
Valery Zorkin: What I’m saying here may be just my subjective impression. These are just a few examples from a huge range of decisions that we have made. Of course I may be biased but I do believe, I am personally convinced that there are no unimportant cases. Sometimes people wait for high-profile decisions in high-profile, much discussed political affairs, but it seems to me sometimes – and I have worked in the Constitutional Court for a long time – that a seemingly small thing can have large consequences. Unlike other courts, the Constitutional Court does not simply decide one particular case. Resolving a specific issue, for example, in a dispute between Citizen Ivanov and the Tax Inspectorate automatically determines the fate of all the other cases, which may involve millions of taxpayers.
Dmitry Medvedev: This shows the value and importance of the decisions that the Constitutional Court takes. Incidentally, this implies the need for more efficiency on the part of those institutions charged with implementing the Constitutional Court's decisions, your decisions. This point is probably one of the most complex and important: that the decisions of the Constitutional Court be embodied in the practices of other jurisdictions, in the daily business of the executive branch. This mechanism needs to be put in order.
Valery Zorkin: Yes. If our decisions are not implemented, this means that very little justice is done.