Russia to See Increased Judicial Centralization

June 28, 2013

The Supreme Court (SC) and the Supreme Arbitrage Court (SAC) will be united, Vladimir Putin announced at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, and in the near future the appropriate draft law will be submitted to the State Duma. Furthermore, the president supported the idea of economic amnesty, which would “strengthen the faith of citizens in the institution of entrepreneurship,” as he put it.

As Vladimir Putin stated at the forum, he has already assigned his administration and parliament to research the issue of unifying the SC and SAC, including amendments to the Russian Federation Constitution.

“We have done quite a bit to eliminate the accusatory tilt in the work of the law-enforcement and judicial system, to remove reasons for turning business disputes into criminal prosecution, and have done a lot of work to humanize criminal law. For the purposes of ensuring unified approaches to the resolution of disputes with the participation of citizens and organizations, and also disputes with bodies of state authority and local self-government, I propose unifying the Supreme and Arbitrage Courts,” the president explained.

According to Putin, the appropriate draft law will be submitted to the State Duma in the near future and will be reviewed at the autumn session. In order to amending the RF Constitution (with the exception of the chapters “Fundamentals of the Constitutional Order,” “Human and Civil Rights and Liberties” and those concerning the procedure for reviewing the Fundamental Law), the draft of the presidential amendments must be approved by no less than 2/3 of the deputies of the State Duma,  3/4 of the members of the Council of the Federation and be supported by the legislative bodies of no less than 2/3 of the subjects of the Russian Federation. We will recall that the most recent amendments to the Constitution were passed in exactly this way, regarding the increase in the terms of office of the president and parliament (to six and five years, respectively).

The judicial community has been talking for a long time about how Putin intended to turn the SAC into a sub-division of the Supreme Court. They noted that this was also related to the idea of transferring the supreme courts to St. Petersburg, and also with the refusal to remove the term limits on the office of chair of the SAC and his or her deputies. Anton Ivanov spoke against the unification. On 20 June in an interview with Kommersant, Ivanov said: “The influence of such a super-court on judicial practice in the regions will be sharply reduced. The SAC now reviews up to 5% of the complaints received and the SC reviews 0.1%. That is, the practice of course of common jurisdiction is essentially formed by the regional courts, and for us by the Supreme Arbitrage Court. No issues inside the judicial system should be decided without the opinion of the Supreme Court. If we take into account the number of cases, instances and the existing system of payment for the work of courts of common jurisdiction, the unified Supreme Court will hardly be effective.”

The idea of unifying the supreme courts has already been sharply criticized by Tamara Morshchakova, retired Deputy Chair of the Constitutional Court. “Throughout the whole world, there is a tendency of development of specialization inside the judicial system, so that at the head of each branch of the judicial system there stands a supreme court. If the supreme authority in the judicial system in concentrated in one body, abuse is possible and the positive tendencies of development from below cannot make a way for themselves,” she told the portal

“The unification is based on the need for unity in practice. But that can be a minus. Then cases will conclude not at the level of the supreme courts of the country, but the supreme courts in the regions. That is because an enormous unified court cannot review all complaints. Even now this is limited to only a formal check.”

Vladimir Putin also supported the idea of an economic amnesty, which has been promoted by Boris Titov, the business ombudsman. “The decision for an amnesty is not only an act of humanism regarding specific entrepreneurs. This is an opportunity to reset a broad spectrum of civic relations, the work of our law-enforcement and judicial system and realize our plans for fundamental expansion of the space for entrepreneurial initiative, and on the whole, strengthen the faith of citizens in the institution of entrepreneurship,” said the president of the plenary session of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. He noted that the development of the state was possible only “under the condition of public respect for private property, to the values of economic freedom, entrepreneurial labor and successes.”

We will recall that Boris Titov, the Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights, expressed the idea of an economic amnesty in early May, proposing that the State Duma declare it with an Entrepreneur’s Day. According to an interim version of the document (see Kommersant on May 8), 53 crimes in the sphere of economic relations fell under the amnesty including Art. 159 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Extortion”), Article 160 (“Misappropriation or embezzlement”) and Art. 165 (“Cause of property damage through fraud or abuse of trust”).  However, during a discussion of the amnesty at a meeting of the business community, Vladimir Putin described the draft law presented to him as “rough” and proposed working on it along with entrepreneurs, experts and the Prosecutor General’s Office. On 11 June, Boris Titov, speaking in the Public Chamber, reported that the draft had undergone several serious revisions and about 20 articles of the Criminal Code had been excluded.

Meanwhile, Sergei Neverov, Vice Speaker of the State Duma and Secretary of the United Russia’s General Council, has already stated that the lower chamber will pass a decree on the amnesty “before the end of this session.” According to Neverov, “the need for an economic amnesty was comprehensively discussed with the participation of the public, experts and representatives of business. As a result, they came to balanced decisions. The declaration of an amnesty is essentially a change in the approaches to stimulating entrepreneurship in the country,” said Neverov.