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Russian Civil Judicial System[1]

The authors are Anton Burkov and Douglas Kramer. Mr. Burkov is a legal officers with the Urals Centre for Constitutional and International Human Rights Protection of the NGO Sutyajnik (Yekaterinburg, Russia), Contacts: t./f.:+7-343-355-56-31; burkov@sutyajnik.ru; www.sutyajnik.ru, Mr. Kramer is an American attorney working at the Urals Center as a volunteer from the International Senior Lawyers Project (New York, USA), www.islp.org

1. Court systems: There are 4 systems, each independent of the others.

1.1 Constitutional courts

1.2 Courts of General Jurisdiction

1.3 Commercial (“Arbitrajnii”) Courts

1.4 Military Courts

2. Constitutional Courts: There are two independent systems: (1) Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation; (2) Charter (or Constitutional) Courts of the Subjects of the Russia Federation (“RF”)

2.1. Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation (RF): Two chambers/19 judges [2]

2.1.1 Jurisdiction[3]   Interpret the Russian Federal Constitution.   Decide whether a federal law is inconsistent with the federal Constitution.   Decide whether laws and regulations of the Republics and Oblasts are inconsistent with federal Constitution

2.1.2. Standing:   Only state organs have the right to seek interpretation of the Russian Federal Constitution   Citizens can invoke   and jurisdiction if they can establish “admissibility” (somewhat akin to a “case or controversy”)

2.2. Constitutional Courts (or Charter Courts) of the Subjects of the Russian Federation[4]

2.2.1   Jurisdiction:   Interpret Regional Constitutions and Charters   Decide whether Oblast or local statutes are consistent with Regional Constitutions and Charters

3. Courts of General Jurisdiction:  Four levels: Supreme Court; Courts of the Subjects of the RF; District Courts; Peace Judges

3.1. Supreme Court: one court, located in Moscow

3.1.1. Jurisdiction Court of Cassation (an appeal on the law; an appeal on the facts in exceptional circumstances) from Courts of the Subjects of the RF.   Problem: the final appeal for citizens lies in the Supreme Court, BUT the Government can start an original proceeding in the Constitutional Court, which may render an inconsistent opinion. Original jurisdiction: Conflicts between acts of government bodies of the RF and federal legislation:   Note: This is the only route for citizens to challenge federal government regulations (subsidiary legislation) as violating federal legislation, as citizens lack competence to make such a challenge in the Constitutional Court.    Regulations[5]: Supreme Court can issue Regulations, explaining how a statute should be applied. These are binding on all lower courts of general jurisdiction   Problem: Supreme Court claims power to issue Regulations on consistency of statutes with federal Constitution, but Constitutional Court claims exclusive jurisdiction to make this determination.

3.2   Courts of the Subjects of the RF: 89 such courts, one in each Republic/Oblast, plus one each in Moscow and St Petersburg

3.2.1   Jurisdiction:   Courts of Cassation from District Court   Original jurisdiction:   Challenges to normative laws and regulations of regional authorities   Challenges to acts relating to individuals (private legislation) go to District Court   Adoption

3.3   District Courts: may be one in each city district (there are 7 in Yekaterinburg), one for each smaller town, one for a group of villages

3.3.1   Jurisdiction: Decides more serious cases than Peace Justices (see 3.4); challenges to local acts of local governments Decides Appeals from Peace Judges: decision is final

3.3.2   Appeals from District Court judgments via cassation proceeding go to Courts of the Subjects of the RF

3.4   Peace Judges (similar to Magistrates): in each District there may be several Peace Judges.

3.4.1.   Jurisdiction: handles small claims, petty offenses

3.4.2   Appeals: to District Court: decision is final

4   Commercial Courts (Arbitrajni)[6]

4.1   Commercial cases: parties must be commercial enterprises; must operate “for profit.”

4.2   Three levels: Supreme Arbitrajni Court; Appeals Courts; Arbitrajni Courts of the Subjects of the RF

4.2.1   Supreme Arbitrajni Court: cassation and original jurisdiction Original jurisdiction over disputes between Russian government and commercial parties Can review normative acts of Government Chief Justice or Chief Procurator can order extraordinary appeal from Cassation decision, which goes to a new panel Can issue Regulations

4.2.2   Appeals Courts: 11 (one for each of the 11 regions): can consider new evidence (unlike a Cassation proceeding, which is limited to review of the law)

4.2.3   Arbitrajni Courts of the Subjects of the RF: 89 courts Appeals (not cassation): to Appeals Courts

5   Appointment of Judges[7]:

5.1   Constitutional Courts: appointed by higher chamber of Federal Assembly after Presidential nomination for 9 year term?

5.2   Supreme Court:  appointed by the higher chamber of the Federal Assembly after nomination by the President. Appointed without term limit

5.3   District Court/ Courts of the Oblasts and Republics: Judges appointed by President without approval by Assembly. Three year probationary term followed by re-appointment without limit

5.4 Peace Judges: Elected for 5 year terms by the population of their circuit.

6    European Court on Human Rights:  Review Outside the Russian Judicial System of Human Rights Issues[8]

6.1   Established 4 November 1950 by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms[9]

6.2   Jurisdiction: Defined by European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”): Enforce Articles and Protocols of the Convention[10]

6.3    Criteria of Admissibility

6.3.1   Violation of a Right (Article/Protocol of the Convention)

6.3.2   Dispute between individual and government agency

6.3.3   Violation must occur within the scope of the jurisdiction of the government party (“acting within scope of authority”)

6.3.4   Violation must take place while Convention is in effect. A violation may have commenced before effective date of Convention, but must continue beyond that date.

6.3.5   Exhaust all domestic remedies

6.3.6   Limitations: 6 months after final judgment in domestic jurisdiction

6.3.7   States can sue each other on behalf of citizens

[2] For a general discussion of constitutional court, see: http://ks.rfnet.ru/english/titleeng.htm

[3]  See the Constitution of the RF, Article 125

[4] Republics have Constitutional Courts, Oblasts have Charter Courts. These courts are independent from the Constitutional Court. However, they have similar jurisdiction and resolve cases about compliance of regional laws and other normative acts (laws of general applicability, as opposed to individual acts) of regional and local governments with constitutions (chapters) of the subjects of the Russian Federation.  As of December 2003 there were 15Charter courts even though there are 87 Republics and Oblasts, plus Moscow and St. Petersburg, It is not mandatory that such courts be created . Article 27 of the Law on Judicial System of the Russian Federation stipulates only the possibility of creating Charter courts in the subjects of the Russian Federation.

[5] A unique element of the machinery of domestic law implementation that exists in the Russian legal system are Regulations (‘Postanovleniya’), which are enacted by the Plenum of the Supreme Court and the Plenum of the Supreme Commercial (Arbitration) Court of the Russian Federation. Regulations are “explanations on judicial practice issues” based on the overview and generalization of the lower courts’ and the supreme courts’ jurisprudence. They are abstract opinions that are, however, legally binding on all lower courts and which summarize judicial practice of lower courts and explain the way a particular provision of the law shall be applied. They are employed for the purpose of obtaining consistent application of Russian law by explaining how the law shall be interpreted. Regulations have their legal basis in Articles 126 and 127 of the Constitution.

[8]  The ECHR is not, of course, part of the Russian judicial system. However, all persons subject to Russian jurisdiction have the right to appeal government actions alleged to violate the Convention for the Protection of Human rights and Fundamental Freedoms after they have exhausted available domestic remedies.

[9] General background: see  http://www.echr.coe.int/Eng/General.htm.  On 28 February 1996 Russia acceded to the Statute of the Council of Europe. It signed the Convention in 1998 and ratified it on 30 March 1998, effective May 5 1998

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