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President Putin's Introductory Remarks at the VI National Congress of Judges
November 30, 2004
State Kremlin Palace

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good day dear colleagues,

This is not the first time we are meeting at such an occasion. Four years ago, we met for the same reason, for the congress of judges, and we discussed the work ahead and the situation in the judicial system at that time. Now, looking back over the time that has passed, we have every reason to say that this has been a period of dynamic and fruitful development for the Russian judicial system. Indeed, we have seen development in all areas ­ in modernising our justice legislation and ensuring that the judiciary is better financed and better equipped and that the courts have all they need to carry out their work. Of course, a lot of problems still remain, but I hope nonetheless that you can say that progress has been made.

One of the most significant achievements of the changes that have taken place is that citizens are turning more and more often to the courts to settle their problems. This shows that there is increasing trust in the judicial system. But the old instinct of distrust and a cautious approach to using the courts as a means of resolving legal disputes still persists among the public.

You know the current state of affairs better than I do. You know that every year the courts examine 6 million civil cases, 3 million administrative cases, 1 million criminal cases and more than 1 million commercial cases. These figures show that people now have greater access to justice, and they are also indicative of the great burden of work the courts must deal with. The number of federal judges increased by more than 7,000 over the last four years. Courts of first instance now work more efficiently and are less over-burdened than before, largely thanks to the institution of justices of the peace, who now work in 87 of the country’s regions.

But as public trust in the courts increases, so the number of cases will also increase, and this will undoubtedly require a more modern and rational organisation of the way the courts function.

In this context we need to take all steps to develop methods that have already proven their worth elsewhere in the world. I am thinking here of such methods as dispute resolution through negotiations and conciliation agreements and also arbitration as a means of settling disputes.

Despite the obvious success achieved by judicial reform, there are still many problems and unresolved issues. I imagine that you will use this congress to discuss them in detail. For my part, I would like to draw your attention to what seems to me are several key points.

First is to ensure that the principle of judicial independence is implemented in its fullest. This is a vital principle and it has always been the cornerstone of judicial reform over these past years. Today it remains an issue of utmost importance. Independence of the judiciary is not some kind of honorary privilege, but is a prerequisite for the judicial system to be able to carry out its constitutional functions within the system of division of powers.

A whole system of legal, social and financial guarantees exists to ensure the independence of the judicial system in Russia. I think it would be right to look at one fundamental issue, and that is increased pay for judges.

I have not raised this issue in order to win your compliments, though, of course, any other reaction can hardly be expected. But I bring up this point deliberately. I myself am a law graduate and many of my friends work in the judicial system, in the Interior Ministry, the security services, the courts, the prosecutor’s office and as lawyers, and they will perhaps criticise me for this, but everyone agrees in their heart that the essence of the judicial system is the summit of justice, where we know that decisions are taken upon which depend not just the fate of individuals as, say, in a criminal trial, but also the health of the state and the economy in administrative and arbitration proceedings. Becoming a judge in many ways represents the summit of a career in law, and so I do think that we should embody this principle by giving the courts the corresponding position in our state.

Furthermore, today I sent to the State Duma a draft federal law that would set a single maximum age limit for all judges. Given the particular nature of judges’ work and the fact that we unfortunately still do not have enough qualified people, I think it possible to raise this age limit to 70. These measures all have one objective, and that is to ensure that judges take objective and professional decisions that follow the spirit and letter of the law.

The fairness of court decisions is the criterion by which the public judges the quality of justice in the country, and respect for the judges is above all respect for the state. We must remember that bribe-taking, excessive judicial red tape and flagrant judicial errors undermine not just trust in the courts but trust in the state as a whole.

I want to stress how important it is to examine all cases of violations in the courts’ work. Indeed, violations are simply unacceptable where justice is being dispensed. In this respect, the judges’ own professional organisations have a particular role to play. Their purpose is precisely to strengthen the judiciary’s authority and ensure that to be a judge is absolutely one and the same thing as to be someone of irreproachable reputation. The guidelines for judges’ professional and personal conduct are set not only by the law but also by the judges’ Code of Ethics.

Moreover, in order to prevent infringements of the law, I think it would be expedient to make amendments to the law on the status of judges regarding their obligations to declare their income and property.

Now a few words on raising the professionalism of justices of the peace. Their job is to examine disputes that arise out of everyday conflicts but that are no less complex in nature than the cases examined by federal judges. It is important therefore to create an effective system of ongoing training so that justices of the peace can raise their qualifications. This should make use of all the possibilities offered by educational institutions and by the judges’ own professional organisations.

The next subject I wanted to say a few words on is the transparency of justice for the participants in court proceedings and also for society in general. I think this is a problem that really does exist. Of course, there is secrecy of investigations and secrecy of court proceedings, but too much secrecy is harmful and leads to an information vacuum that is responsible for producing false stereotypes regarding the courts’ work.

The issue of relations between the judiciary and the media is an important one, therefore, and there is a need to develop clear principles for their cooperation and interaction. I think that judges can certainly take the initiative in developing these contacts. I would like you to discuss this issue and I know that you most probably will examine it during this congress. I think that this is in the interests of all of Russian society.

The issue of computerising the courts is also of particular importance. The judges very urgently need the recommendations of legal specialists and researchers and computerisation specialists, an exchange of experience and knowledge, an objective analysis of legal practice and unified procedures for courts’ work. In order to achieve these objectives, a state automated system, Justice, will begin operating next year. I am certain that this will raise judges’ work to a new, modern, level.

The congress of judges is a significant event not only for the judges themselves but for the entire country. You will be analysing the work of judges at all levels and discussing the justice system’s most pressing problems today. More importantly, however, the congress provides the opportunity for a broad discussion on strengthening the judicial system and raising people’s trust in the courts and the judges.

But any forum of this kind ultimately represents only one stage in discussion. The situation with the country’s justice system should be a constant focus of attention and analysis for the country’s judges. The justice system requires further improvement and development and the country’s leadership will also keep it firmly within its sights. But now I would like to wish you constructive and successful work today, tomorrow, throughout the congress, and constructive work on achieving the complex and important goals that are your responsibility in your everyday work.

Thank you very much for your attention.