President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, I want to start by offering you my warmest congratulations on the state holiday tomorrow, Constitution Day, and on the New Year holiday period that is fast approaching.
Today, as tradition, we can examine the current situation in constitutional law in our country, discuss any problems that exist, look at the Constitutional Court’s role, talk about the decisions you have made this year, and perhaps also discuss the very important issue of enforcing Constitutional Court decisions. This is something we discussed at our last meeting too. After all, no matter where in the world, courts sit and rulings are made not for the judges’ pleasure, but in order to actually be carried out and thus guarantee that justice triumphs and constitutional order is maintained.
Enforcing the court’s rulings is therefore a very important matter. As far as I know, the work you have done has led to the amendment of a number of important documents such as regions’ constitutions and charters, including those of the Republics of Sakha and Komi, and the Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Areas. I think this work needs to continue because, although we have cleared up pretty much all cases of obvious contradictions with the Constitution over the last ten years, thanks to the joint efforts of the Constitutional Court and the executive authorities, in part, there are still some matters that need to be settled. I think these rough edges need to be smoothed out and brought into line with the Constitution.
Of course, one of the Constitutional Court’s most important areas of work is guaranteeing people’s constitutional rights and freedoms. The Constitution is a legal act of direct application that must be implemented through the justice system in all its forms, including through the constitutional court.
Over the course of this year you have received 18,500 appeals from citizens. That was the figure in mid-November, as I recall. This is 4,000 more than last year. This is a measure of the Constitutional Court’s authority in the public’s eyes, and at the same time it also is an indication of the expectations that people have when they turn to the Constitutional Court for protection, hoping that the court will examine their appeals and give a ruling that will ultimately clear the obstacles and problems in the way of protecting their constitutional rights and freedoms.
I think we will be able to discuss all of the different questions you might have. I am very pleased that we are meeting in this relatively informal setting. I hope the next meeting will take place in St Petersburg on your premises. Although I was there this year, I would like to come again, see you properly, in the Constitutional Court building.
I am not giving our discussion today any set agenda. It is as you wish, colleagues. I think there are several issues that it would be good to examine, issues of concern to you, in particular regarding the legal nature of the definitions the Constitutional Court gives. These definitions in themselves contain significant legal potential but they present greater difficulties in their implementation than do rulings, because rulings are obviously clearer in purpose and status. We therefore need to look at what we can do next, look at whether steps need to be taken to improve this institution. If this is indeed the case, than what direction should we take, and perhaps, if you think it necessary, we could join our efforts and propose amendments to the law.
That is all I have to say for the start.
If you allow, I will say a few words, because you had some interesting things to say, and as a lawyer I cannot but comment on them.
First, concerning the nature of the Constitutional Court itself, this will no doubt be the subject of debate for years still to come. You called it an extraordinary court. I began to ask myself, do I see it as such or not in my understanding of things? On the one hand, the term Extra ordinem, which dates back to Roman law, designates things that are outside the existing order’s framework. But the Constitutional Court, of course, is not outside the legal framework. It acts in accordance with the Constitution and in accordance with the Law On the Constitutional Court.
At the same time, its jurisdiction is absolutely unique. It is not part of some kind of fixed hierarchy of courts or ministerial hierarchy, as exists in other countries. I say this not so much for the sake of defining the court’s nature as for underscoring the importance of the court’s rulings on various issues.
You gave the example of legal incapacity. This was an issue that came in for attention during the Soviet times too, though it was written about less then, and in the post-Soviet period. I remind you (the media, not the judges, of course), that incapacity is a legal and not a medical state. This or that mental illness is a medical state. There are some big differences between the two concepts. First, incapacity is a state that an individual acquires on the basis of a court ruling, and it can also be annulled by a court ruling, whereas mental illnesses, as we know, are something different in nature, something related to biological or other processes, depending on how we explain human nature.
I think therefore that what you said on this matter today, what you said on the possibility for the individual concerned or their representative to have their say in cases examining legal incapacity is a step forward in guaranteeing human rights and freedoms. I think this is an extremely useful decision, as are the decisions concerning administrative arrest and a number of other issues.
You know, I am working a lot on improvements to our criminal and corrections laws right now, first of all because they need to be modernised, like everything else in our country, and secondly because, as I see it, the legislators have not made full use of the whole range of possibilities at our disposal. I recently saw draft provisions from the tsarist period on sentences that could be given. This is not to suggest that this should be cause for some kind of delight, but it is nevertheless welcome to see what a broad range of options judges had for taking measures against individuals and their property. We are a lot more cautious now it seems, a lot more restricted in our options, and I am not sure this is a good thing.
Looking at things in terms of the social implications, I think that the range of sentencing options – options that do not necessarily involve imprisonment but place various other sorts of limitations on individuals — should be broader. Your decisions demonstrate this too, because sentences either have to come under criminal law provisions, or be something else again. There cannot be any overlapping, any grey areas here. If an individual has not been sentenced under criminal law provisions, then why are this or that limitations placed on him? In short, this is an area that needs to be put in order.
Concerning the Constitutional Court’s definitions, I do not want to jump ahead. We can definitely discuss this issue in light of what you said. In any case, I think that what you said on defining the uninterrupted nature of the legal process, at least as far as the Constitutional Court is concerned, requires close attention, because a simplistic interpretation of this notion could be clearly damaging to constitutional legal proceedings.
You mentioned the move [the Constitutional Court’s move from Moscow to St Petersburg]. I think this was indeed a big upheaval for the judges. I hope that everything has settled down now, and I hope that you have all been provided with excellent working conditions, although I know that you all have your own families, habits and attachments. But at the same time, albeit in an indirect way, this move gives an added guarantee of the Constitutional Court’s independence in carrying out legal proceedings. This autonomy gives it the chance to examine all different matters in calmer and more balanced fashion.
The final point I wanted to make today during the public part of this meeting is that, as I have already said on a number of occasions, we all need to make an effort to bolster the judicial branch’s status and authority – and this goes for the Constitutional Court too, of course. This is very important. It is important today and it is important for the future. We must not forget, however, that respect for the decisions of the Constitutional Court, and other courts, is part of the foundation of the rule-of-law state that we have been talking about for the last two decades.
We all have to play our part in this complex and sophisticated task of building up respect for our Constitutional Court and for our court system in general. The president must do this as guarantor of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court judges must do this because they are also citizens of the Russian Federation, and the executive and legislative branches must play their part too. We will certainly do everything required through the presidential line and the executive branch.
Once more, I congratulate you on Constitution Day tomorrow.