Grigory Pasko: Money Talks

Money Talks: On the Rising Salaries of Russian Judges By Grigory Pasko, journalist 90 thousand applications – an indicator of quality President Putin’s Edict about increasing the salaries of judges was published in Russia on February 3, 2007. Now, a judge in Russia will receive more than three thousand dollars a month. The Edict states that the raise in salaries is being carried out “with the aim of granting material guarantees to judges for the full and independent effectuation of justice”. It is known that as far back as the end of 2004, at the All-Russian Congress of Judges, Putin had promised to do everything to make the judge’s robe more attractive for jurists. Since that time, the salary of judges has increased by nearly three times. Today, the profession of judge has become one of the highest-paid in Russia. But far from the most respected by those who turn to Russian courts to seek justice. The whole judicial system of the country has for a long time already been carrying the figurative title of “Basmanny justice”. And eloquently testifying to the quality of the administration of this justice are the applications of Russian citizens to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg: according to the data of PACE experts, over 90 thousand applications from Russians have piled up in this court today. Sergey_mironov.jpg Mironov says the Duma should be able to dismiss judges In connection with this, I recall a speech in February 2004 by the speaker of the upper chamber of the parliament of Russia, Sergey Mironov. He was intending then to come out with a proposal to allow the senate to not only appoint judges, but also to dismiss them. In so doing, he said: “We need to identify the bad apples and remove them from the basket – I am prepared to report about this to the president, an administrative reform is taking place just now”. In the capacity of an example… of vigilance Mironov reminded his listeners about numbers cited by Supreme Court head Vyacheslav Lebedev – 8 nominees for the post of federal judges were rejected in Moscow alone “inasmuch as they are directly associated with criminal groupings”. To damn your judges There is an ancient saying whose origins are lost in the mists of time: “Everybody has the right during 24 hours to damn his judges”. It would seem that in today’s Russia, “everybody” not only has the right, but actually makes use of it, judging by the vast number of complaints – fully justified, I suspect! – that have accumulated today about the quality of the work of Russia’s courts. There was once a time when the country’s chief judge, Vyacheslav Lebedev, said in an interview with “Izvestia” that “openness and transparency are the most important things for the effective existence of a judicial system”. Funny, I thought that for a court the law should be more important… But let us return to that declaration about “openness and transparency”. I have every right to assert that these things Lebedev finds “most important” are hollow words for thousands of Russian judges. They not only frequently ignore the requirement of the law for court sessions to be open to the public, they also create a mass of obstacles for citizens’ claims to even appear before them for consideration. Let’s look at the Moscow City Court as an example. In order to file a claim or an appeal, you need to spend several hours standing in line. They will accept your papers only if you’ve complied with a dozen conditions (dates, stamps, fees, particulars, deadlines…). Then, to use an expression of president Putin’s, “you will torture yourself swallowing dust” as you wait for your claim to be considered. Another method often used in that same Moscow City Court: You receive a notification that a court session on your claim will take place on such and such a date at 11 o’clock in the morning. You arrive, and are told that the session has already taken place! But not at 11 – at 10. Without you being present, naturally. But the procurators were there – they had been informed of the change in time. What next? Next, as Lebedev proposes in his interview, “appeal this decision in the cassational instance”. And so it is that people are forced to spend years trying to achieve justices, bouncing around from a queue to the Moscow City Court clerk’s office to another queue to the office of the Moscow City Court Presidium and later to the Supreme Court of Russia. The uncouthness of judges has become a byword. I, for example, was so outraged by the behavior of one of the judges of the Moscow City Court towards my lawyer that I spoke out publicly in this regard even before the adoption by the judge of a decision with respect to my appeal (for the purposes of this story, it doesn’t really matter that the decision wasn’t in my favor). Next I wrote an appeal to the qualifications collegium of judges of Moscow with a request that it conduct a review judge B.’s actions. The final answer of the deputy chairman of the Moscow City Court, V. Gorshkov, was this: inasmuch as you are indicating that B.’s actions diminish the authority of the judicial power, then you are in fact raising the question of the lawfulness of the judicial ruling rules with respect to the case. That means, Gorshkov summarizes, file a supervisory appeal of B.’s ruling. You can call Gorshkov’s reply what you will – hair-splitting or Jesuitism. But one thing you can’t call it is a document that meets the requirements of the law. There was a time when judges used to complain about their low salaries. Now they don’t complain about that any more – with a salary of three thousand dollars a month, they can probably allow themselves to issue a just ruling every now and then. But now they’re saying that there aren’t enough judges. Indeed, there are only around 20 thousand judges in Russia. In Germany, by comparison, there are 60 thousand. But I’m very worried about the quality of training of today’s judges (at times, their lack of legal sophistication simply takes one’s breath away). And if they were to draft and appoint thousands of new ones, then where’s the guarantee that these will be any better than today’s lot? A few words about training. As a rule, Russian judges get their education in the judges-and-procurators departments of law schools. Maybe this is where they first establish their “Siamese twin” relationship with the procuracy? Why not – just an idea here… – introduce the practice of training judges in judges-and-defense-lawyers departments? Oh wait, we don’t have those! Then we should! We need to change the psychology of judges from accusatory to objective. A judge has to be an arbiter between the prosecution and the defense. Otherwise, any words about an adversarial process will remain just words. Replace the judges – or the president I would start changing the psychology of the judges by replacing the majority of today’s court chairmen [chief judges—Trans.], starting with Lebedev. I believe that the quality of the work judges do depends in large part, if not totally, on the person of the court chairman. Well, and the fact that so many court decisions are “made-to-order” or “contract” verdicts – that just goes without saying… Of course, a lot here depends on the President, who, as can be seen, is perfectly satisfied with both Lebedev and the entire community of judges in the country. In this case, we need to start talking about the quality of the work of the president, and not only that of judges. It is noteworthy that judges themselves often speak about the openness of trials. That same Lebedev reported that a decree of the plenum of the Supreme Court of the RF “On the publicness, openness, and transparentness of Russian justice” is being prepared. Before that, information was floating around in the mass media about the need for the creation of a specialized court TV channel. Last year saw the publication of the memoirs of the former chairman of the Supreme Court of the USSR, Vladimir Terebilov, in which he writes about “openness, as the best guarantee of the independence of a court”. Even earlier, I saw a book with the intriguing title “The Court Needs the Support of the Media”. Among other things, its author – former chairman of the St. Petersburg City Court, Vladimir Poludnyakov – notes with complete justification that “dispassionate, regular information about court decisions must coincide with our (the judges’—G.P.) participation in the explanation of decisions in cases that attract the elevated attention of the public… And this is completely within our capabilities”. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that the judges of the Basmanny court, or of the Moscow City Court for that matter, don’t know how to talk at all. In that case, what or who is keeping them from speaking out about the prominent cases that have literally shaken the Russian public to the core? Cowardice? More likely dependence on the executive branch of power. And the more money the power gives out to the judges in salaries, the stronger this dependence is going to manifest itself.