President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Zorkin, colleagues, good afternoon.
I would like to greet you, the judges of the Constitutional Court, your entire staff, and, of course, all Russian citizens on Constitution Day and wish you all the best.
Let me say once again that the Constitutional Court has a special place in the Russian judicial system. You protect the constitutional foundations of the country as well as fundamental human rights and freedoms; make essential contributions to upgrading our legislation and your decisions largely set the trajectory of the country’s legal development.
You have a lot of work to do, and it is very different from past decades, in the 1990s or at the beginning of the 2000s, when we had to stitch together a common legal space. By the way, you played an important role then, too.
Much has changed since. I believe it is fair to say that, thanks to your work, the culture of law making in Russia has changed and has become more mature in recent years.
There is still plenty to do. We know that humans write laws, and to err is human nature. Your role is to follow carefully the laws being adopted, what they stipulate, what consequences they will have and if the regulations we adopt comply with our Constitution.
And, of course, all this is done in the interests of bolstering Russian statehood and in the interests of Russian citizens.
Among other things, you act as an arbiter between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Your work does not allow anyone to be careless in lawmaking, and this, of course, is very, very important.
Indeed, sometimes I read comments on your rulings and often see experts saying that the Constitutional Court’s rulings are too complicated and difficult to understand. But I tend to disagree: the interpretation of legislative norms, giving them constitutional and legal meaning should be very detailed and well explained. There cannot be any inaccuracy; it requires the highest degree of professionalism.
Constitutional interpretation of norms of material or procedural law also makes it possible to eliminate contradictions in law enforcement practice, which is especially important for the lives of individuals.
In addition, the constitutional interpretation of legislative norms also adapts them to the changing conditions of social development and give them more complete legal content, thus updating and upgrading Russian legislation.
I want to stress that the stability of constitutional principles and norms is an integral part of the successful development of our country. As such, your systematic, consistent and scrupulous work is extremely important for the future of the country.
It is absolutely clear that only a strong, independent state is able to reliably safeguard the rights and freedoms of its citizens, thereby creating conditions for political stability and law and order, as well as for people to live well.
I want to thank you all for your professionalism, sense of responsibility and contribution to elevating the standing of the judicial system and the state.
Of course, when we meet, you always talk about what you currently consider the most significant results of your practical work, analysis of legislative activity and law enforcement practice. I hope that we will also talk about this today.
Please, Mr Zorkin.
Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin: Thank you, Mr President.
If I may, I would like to begin with the tradition we have had for many years and present you with a collection of our most important rulings, not all of them, but the most important ones, just like last year.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Valery Zorkin: Thank you very much for your high praise of the activities of the Constitutional Court. It means a great deal to hear this from the head of state, the guarantor of the Constitution, as they say now. This is more like advance praise to make us work harder and to correct everything we have been criticised for, as you have said, so that we are criticised less. However, I do not know if there can be less criticism, because in the end every court, including the Constitutional Court, resolves disputes between two sides. Someone is bound to be dissatisfied. Even the Presidential representative is not always satisfied.
I would like to say that one of the key words you used, Mr President, is stability. I believe our task is to provide stability for the constitutional system and the Constitution itself. We believe that the Constitution, of course, is a guidepost for the existence and development of Russia, our society and all our citizens.
However, the Constitution is something bigger, because if it were only a text with a hundred or so articles, it would probably be wrong to call it a constitution. It animates laws and law enforcement; this is an enormous pyramid with the Constitution on top. But this top defines all the edges and corners of the pyramid so that nothing breaks loose. We understand our great responsibility, which we can only compare, maybe, with Kaspersky Lab, because we also weed out “viruses” in our legislation and regulations to help lawmakers, the executive and legislative branches, and the judicial branch, too, in fact.
Naturally, we are acting in parallel with the Supreme Court, generally with the entire system of courts that review general civil cases, criminal and administrative cases. This is a sensitive issue because it is very important not to collide or encroach on each other’s competence, which sometimes happens in neighbouring countries and others, generally when the Constitutional Court and other courts go to war.
Luckily, we have avoided this throughout our existence. I think credit for this goes not only to the judges of the Constitutional Court but also to the atmosphere that has taken shape in this country owing to the actions of all authorities, including the President of the Russian Federation, an atmosphere that allows us to understand what we are doing and act together rather than without any coordination.
Of course, the results are not always the same. At any rate, on December 1, only 13 complaints remained unanswered out of more than 14,000 complaints in all areas that we reviewed. This has been a stable figure in the past few years but our specialists predict that this year there will be more than 14,000.
Of course, these decisions are not the same and in many cases, we write denial orders because they are not suitable for constitutional review. Their authors should address other courts. We explain the reasons for the denials. We chose the most important cases that exist practically in all areas of legislative and law enforcement activities, including Russia’s relations with foreign countries, the international vector, so to speak.
This is not always easy because we live in a complicated world. I cannot help but give you one example. We are among the founders of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice and, hence, are members of its Bureau and Presidium. This year it held its fourth Congress. I hope that some time our country will host its congress as well.
This time it took place in Lithuania. What did the Lithuanian authorities do? They denied entry to our delegation, our judges of the Constitutional Court. Why? Because they believed we issued an illegal ruling on Crimea and justified its integration.
But what if we reacted the same way to the Lithuanian Court that at one time ruled that President Paksas was not eligible to run for office and practically announced his impeachment, while later on it suddenly transpired that the Strasbourg Court somewhat distanced itself from this. Paksas did not commit any crime, but it was too late to talk about this. This is the state it was left in. I am saying this not to say anyone made fools of themselves – pardon the expression – but just to emphasise that this is a very sensitive and proper realm of relations.
Nevertheless, the World Conference as an organisation is built on non-interference in individual rulings and has been established for dialogue. But what dialogue can there be if they tell us, “Guys, if you arrive at the border we will not let you go any further.”
I cannot say that Lithuania was supported by all countries. Actually, some countries did not come in protest of this decision. I am referring to delegations of constitutional courts. Such major states as Austria that established the first constitutional court, and other states of Europe and Western Europe considered such conduct impermissible but Lithuania insisted on its decision.
I think this episode will remain in the past because constitutional courts are working to consolidate constitutional legality, peace and prosperity and to help citizens act within the confines of the law. I hope such excesses will not be repeated, all the more so since the conference passed a resolution saying that the hosts of such events must ensure everyone’s presence. The next conference will take place in Algiers and probably some day it will be held in Russia.
We issue rulings in all other areas, including the constitutional, political and civil rights of citizens, as well as personal rights and freedoms. We have rulings on all of them. I would like to emphasise that it is difficult to make decisions that concern the sensitive sphere of political rights but it seems understandable why public attention is drawn to this. Because this is the most attention-grabbing, meaningful sphere. According to statistics, out of the 14,000 complaints 59 concern political rights. This is their share. This gives analysts much food for thought. But I do not want to talk about specific cases, for instance, the YUKOS case. This was our first case in January 2017 and it continues to be a source of controversy.
It seems to me that it is not appropriate to spend time enumerating major rulings at our official meeting. We gave you our report for 2016. We will sum up the results of 2017 and submit the corresponding report next year.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Mr Zorkin.