Grigory Pasko: Ranking Russia’s Constitutional Court

constit090810.jpgDuring a meeting on improving the judicial system this past July, President Dmitry Medvedev noted that “the modern-day court must be open for public control and in a greater degree accessible for citizens.” The president also spoke about the issue of public oversight in discussing the new draft law «On the police». In the words of Medvedev, one of the main differences between the new law and the current law “On the militia” will consist of the fact that in it “must be in a detailed manner determined the norms that provide for pubic control over the activity of the MVD and its official persons”. We already know just how much effect public opinion has on the MVD: after mass media and bloggers showed the beatings of peaceful citizens by a warrant officer from St. Petersburg, the MVD for a long time claimed that it could not locate this employee, and then, upon having found him, did not find any grounds for sanction or dismissal. There is an uneasy hunch that the wishes of Medvedev about control over the MVD are going to remain just that – wishes. Moreover, despite the fact that some kind of norms are going to be determined.

The way they were, as an example, determined in relation to the openness of Russian courts. It is assumed that openness of judicial information for all who desire – this is one of the mechanisms of public control. With the objectives of providing for the activity of such a mechanism as far back as the year 2008, Federal Law No. 262 was adopted “On providing for access to information on the activity of courts in the RF,” which envisions, in particular, the posting on the Internet of the texts of court decisions after their adoption, and of verdicts – after their entry into legal force. This law entered into force 1 July of the year 2010. That is, two years the legislator gave courts to prepare for active, fruitful and well organized use of the new law.At the end of July of this year the Institute for the development of freedom of information (IRSI) published a rating of the openness of Russian courts. In the month from the moment the 262nd law entered into force the experts evaluated more than 2.4 thousand websites of general-jurisdiction courts of all levels and came to the conclusion that the average degree of openness of the courts comprises 41.33%.The principal criterion for evaluation became accessibility of primary information on the website: the time of work of the chancellery, data on the official persons and employees, the address of the court, the particulars for the payment of state duties. Three ratings were drawn up based on the results of the research. The first includes within itself data broken down by all of the subjects of the Russian Federation, in the second are presented data broken down by the courts of the eight federal districts. In the third rating – cumulative information about the openness of 2422 general-jurisdiction courts of all levels – from district to republican, oblast and krai. (the report can be read in greater detail here).The experts determined that the leaders in the rating of openness by subjects of the RF are Saint Petersburg (56.5%), Moscow (53.16%) and Novosibirsk Oblast (50.3%). Among the most “open” districts – the North-Western (45.37%), the Central (43.2%) and the Northern (41.78%).IRSI expert Vladimir Golubev notes that a standard visual template is used on the websites of the majority of courts, which significantly eases the search for information and simplifies navigation within the website. Besides that, the information presented on the internet is constantly added to: this takes place on average once a week.The places in the rating were distributed in the following manner. First place – the Zheleznodorozhny district court of the city of Voronezh (Voronezh Oblast) 74.69% . Second place – the Zyuzinsky district court (City of Moscow) 71.22%. Third place – the Chanovsky district court (Novosibirsk Oblast) 54.90%.In 203rd place in the rating turned out to be the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The Moscow City Court occupied but 957th place.Commentaries, as is said, are superfluous.The IRSI rating, in the words of jurist Ivan Pavlov, evoked an ambiguous reaction among court workers. The fact of the matter is, that it was republished by the Russian agency for judicial and legal information (RAPSI) – an agency specially created by the court community.But forums judges simply leaped into hysteria, indignant on account of the ratings. (I think that the hysteria was scripted and directed from above).From the commentaries at the forum I came to a conclusion about how court workers in principle don’t like the idea of openness of courts for whomever at all.Apparently, the employees of RAPSI noticed this as well, and were forced to write in their article: “The rating of openness of courts prepared by IRSI – a worthy undertaking, exclusively useful both for simple citizens, and for judges themselves. To build an open court system in a country that does not have the corresponding experience right away and without mistakes is impossible. The question consists of the preferences of officials: are they prepared to constructively examine criticism and to work on mistakes, or are they hoping to “save face” simply simulating activeness.”In a word, RAPSI intends to continue to publish changes in the rating of openness of courts going forward, just like other objective results of civic control over the activity of the judicial system. «Inasmuch as, – they come to a conclusion in RAPSI, – the unavoidable price of refusing civic control – is the illness and degradation of the state apparat, which can not but impact on the quality of life of society».One can understand the court workers: they have been living a hundred years without any control, merely keenly hearkening to the whiff of opinions and telephone noises from the side of the executive power. And now here you have all of a sudden – some kind of public control. What does this mean – that anybody, off the street, can enter the website, and there, like in a restaurant on a plate, is supposed to lie everything that this person, from the street, wants? You’ve got to be kidding!Personally I see in the Supreme Court’s 203rd place and the Moscow City Court’s 968th place obvious features of open-as-day sabotage by court workers of the Federal law “On providing for access to information on the activity of courts in the Russian Federation “.But there is no way they will admit this. Furthermore, they are looking for a justification for their, to put it mildly, sceptical attitude both towards the law, and towards the ratings of openness. One such critics has talked so far as to make… journalists guilty of everything. In his opinion, many servants of Themis simply do not have confidence that journalists will use information obtained within the halls of justice with intelligence and good sense. After all, jurists love precise formulations. But journalists – are a creative bunch.In short, the saboteurs have decided to use an ancient method: throw everything from a sick head onto a healthy one. Anything to keep the age-old ways of irresponsibility and uncontrollability from changing.And finally. The research conducted recently by the “Levada-centre” bears witness: a mere 11% of Russians are convinced that our courts issue fair decisions.This rating many judges, it goes without saying, also do not believe.