Staunton, October 12 – Many commentators focused on the language of the amendments to the Russian Constitution that Vladimir Putin pushed through earlier this year, but they have not focused on the implementation laws the Kremlin leader is now proposing. That is a huge mistake, Elena Lukyanova says, because those bills make it clear exactly what Putin’s goals are.
In an assessment of the impact of these bills on the Russian Constitutional Court, the lawyer and law professor at the Free University says that they will geld the Russian Constitutional Court and ensure that body will be less transparent and independent (vtimes.io/news/konstitucionnyj-sud-novye-instrukcii-po-primeneniyu).
The 96-page measure (https://sozd.duma.gov.ru/bill/1024643-7), Lukyanova says, represents the largest overhaul of the court’s operations since it was created in 1994, and with rare exceptions, the changes the bill will introduce will mean that it will play a less significant role in defending Russian rights and a much greater one in implementing Kremlin policies.
Among the things the bill does is to reduce the opportunity for the court to issue explanatory guidance to other courts, something that helped standardize legal practice and on occasion defended the constitutional rights of Russian citizens, she says.
Further, it makes it far more difficult for individuals to appeal to it or the court itself to insert itself in cases. In the past, citizens could appeal and the court intervene at all stages of a case. Now, neither citizens nor the court can do so unless and until all other legal venues have heard the case and reached a decision.
And it allows the court in the future to discuss cases and reach decisions out of the public eye, thus opening the way for more telephone justice and less public control on the court’s decisions.
Significantly, the measure cuts the number of justices to 11. Originally, there had been 19 but deaths and resignations have reduced their number to 13. Those now in place are quite loyal to the Kremlin, but the Kremlin can’t be sure that their replacements will be equally deferential to the powers that be. It also makes it easier for the Federation Council to remove justices.
At the same time, the measure gives the court new authority “on the initiative of the president” to go over reginal legislation that may not be in correspondence with federal law and that Putin would like to change, and it gives the court, subject to agreement with the Supreme Court, to block the application of international courts on Russian territory.
All these measures are very discouraging, Lukyanova says; but even worse is the fact that the new law “publicly, officially and finally” renders the Constitutional Court meaningless. That is because it gives the Supreme Court the exclusive right to enforce the Constitutional Court’s decisions.
That likely sets the stage for the Constitutional Court to wither and die, exactly the opposite result that its creators 25 years ago hoped for and one with the most negative consequences for the defense of law and civil rights in the Russian Federation, the law professor says.