The Prosecutor’s Office will represent Russia at the European Court of Human Rights – previously a responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. What does this mean for applicants and lawyers? [Advokatskaya ulitsa]

2 June 2021

Lawyer’s street (Advokatskaya ulitsa) asks lawyers Aleksandr Peredruk and Kirill Koroteev about a new development in Russia’s representation at the European Court of Human Rights.

 Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Адвокатская улица]

Kirill Koroteev
Aleksandr Peredruk

As we know, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) considers complaints from civilians of state violations of their rights. Russia has traditionally been represented in court by the Ministry of Justice. But President Putin recently introduced a bill in the State Duma to transfer this responsibility to the prosecutor general. Lawyer’s street (Advokatskaya ulitsa) asked Aleksandr Peredruk, senior partner at Apology of Protest (Apologiya protesta), and Kirill Koroteev, leader of the international legal practice at Agora International Human Rights Group, some ‘naïve questions’ about the new proposals.

  1. What does Russia’s representative to the ECtHR actually do?

‘Put simply, they represent the interests of the Russian Federation as a party in the case,’ says Kirill Koroteev. In actual fact, Russia’s authorised representative is the state’s lawyer. They defend its interests in disputes with applicants. When the court accepts a citizen’s application, then the representative prepares written objections. However, they can admit the fact of rights being violated, as in an ordinary court – and offer to resolve the conflict with a settlement agreement.

  • Why are these tasks being transferred to the Prosecutor General?

The official explanation is that the supervisory authority has more extensive capabilities ‘for the most effective defence of the state, Russian citizens and organisations in international and foreign court proceedings’. For example, the prosecutor’s office claims that the combination of its traditional powers with this new status ‘will allow it to intervene and eliminate violations of citizens’ rights at all stages of the consideration of an application and, if necessary, make concessions to reach a reconciliation with it.’

  • Will the prosecutor’s office really be able to do anything the Ministry of Justice couldn’t?

Experts have reported that the Ministry of Justice also intervened in situations where citizens’ rights were violated. But it will now be ‘harder for the state to justify its inaction’, suggests Peredruk. ‘In the case of Saidov vs. Russia, the ECtHR forbade the deportation of the applicant to Tajikistan, because they considered that he faced the risk of torture there. However, law enforcement organs said that they were not informed of the ECtHR’s ruling in time,’ he gives as an example.

  • So what is the real reason for this?

‘This is connected with the prosecutor’s office’s internal battle to increase its influence,’ says Kirill Koroteev. These additional powers could give the institution increased weight within the Russian legal system.

  • Would Russia be the only country to be represented by its prosecutor general?

No, every country assigns the office that their representative at the ECtHR reports to differently. For example, Spain and Norway are represented by the prosecutor’s office, Belgium by the justice department, and the UK by the foreign office. This is not a matter of principle for the court. ‘In difficult cases, hired lawyers have represented governments. For example, in the case of Georgia vs. Russia, both states were represented by British lawyers,’ Peredruk adds.

  • What will this mean for plaintiffs and their representatives? Is Russia expected to take tougher positions in the ECtHR?

The transfer of responsibilities should not change the position of people appealing to the ECtHR, nor should it impact on the procedure of assessing their cases. This is unlikely of itself to bring about any ‘toughening’ of Russia’s position as a legal party. ‘There is a possibility that the office of the authorised ECtHR representative will simply move from the Ministry of Justice to the Prosecutor General’s office. It is unlikely that the same people will change the content of their paperwork much,’ Peredruk says.

  • Why has this news attracted so much attention?

‘Because this is a question of the security and law enforcement lobby’s undercover battle to increase their influence,’ Kirill Koroteev believes.

Translated by Elizabeth Rushton

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