Earlier this week Russia Profile published an interesting piece about a new law being pushed by President Dmitry Medvedev to empower the Federation Council to handpick judges for the Constitutional Court. Clearly the potential for rule of law to become successfully consolidated depends greatly upon such judicial rules of appointments, procedures for removal, and other norms of operation which reinforce independence and create a buffer between the judiciary and the executive. Ideally, a reformer would like to see Russian judges undergo a vetting process before a legislative committee (with the assumption that perhaps one day the Duma will have more than just one party). That said, the previous closed-doors procedure of appointing judges by the court itself wasn’t much better, but it is disappointing to see the gap between the president’s rhetoric and reality grow a little wider.
Yet the idea that the president’s appointment of the chairman of the Constitutional Court through the body of the Council Federation means tighter control of the judiciary is nothing new. This control already seems to exist, according to Larissa Efimova, a legal advisor to the State Duma. “The members of the Constitutional Court are also picked by the president, so he could have indirect influence on the chairman of the court, which is what happened before. But the president also has an effect on the decisions that are made by the chairman,” she said. The argument supporting this view is that the Russian authorities already have a lot of control over the decisions of the judiciary. The Yukos case is a prime example of a case in which the judges were criticized for being politically influenced in their verdicts.
This proposed change to the procedure of appointing the chairman in theConstitutional Court comes after a series of apparently liberal movesby president Medvedev and his representatives in the legal sphere.Anton Ivanov, the chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court of theRussian Federation and a close ally of Medvedev, recently proposed tointroduce an examination for judges, which would test their knowledgeand professionalism. These examinations would be monitored by lawyers,and the examinations would be kept as records for the whole duration ofthe judges’ careers. Another “liberal” move by the same man, Ivanov,was the dismissal of Judge Lyudmila Maykova on charges of corruption.
These motions, along with the president’s anti-corruption rhetoric andthe disclosure of government members’ financial details (includingthose of their immediate family), signaled that the country was movingin a more democratic, or at least more transparent, direction. Theproposed new measure would seem to undermine the independence of thejudiciary and the authority of the judges at the Constitutional Court,the key tenets of the “rule of law” state Medvedev is supposed to bebuilding.Petrov thinks that this proposal is not at all surprising. “I do notsee any liberal actions from the president. I see liberal sayings, butthese are not at all turning into actions,” he said. In his opinion,the political image of the president as more liberal is meaningless,since it is not mirrored by liberal reforms. The proposed change ofprocedures in question is an example of an anti-liberal action, and inPetrov’s view entirely in keeping with Medvedev’s past record.