Law of the Week: Duma adopts bill in second reading on Constitutional Court

Week-ending 23 October 2020

RAPSI, Wednesday, 21 October 2020: A bill on powers and formation order of the country’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday passed its second reading in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament. The draft law is related to amendments to the Constitution adopted on March 14. The initiative envisages that the Constitutional Court is to be consisted of 11 judges including a chairperson and a deputy chair. On a presidential request the Court will check necessary validity of draft laws on amendments to the Constitution, federal constitutional draft laws and federal and regional bills and adopted initiatives before their signing by the President, the legislative proposal reads. Under the bill, the Constitutional Court must solve issues on the possibility of execution of decisions and rulings of international bodies, foreign or international courts and arbitration.

Meduza, Wednesday, 21 October 2020: The State Duma Committee on State Building and Legislation has prepared amendments to the new law “On the Constitutional Court” ahead of its second reading. According to the proposed changes, judges will be prohibited from “criticizing” the rulings of the Constitutional Court “in any form,” as well as from “making their disagreement with decisions public in any form.” They will no longer “have the right to disclose dissenting or concurring opinions in any form, or refer to them publicly.”

Boris Vishnevsky has summarised the proposed changes to the Constitutional Court as follows:

The changes to the law on the Constitutional Court are worthy of note.

First, the reduction in the number of judges from nineteen to eleven.  This is in order to make the Court easier to manage.

Second, the president will be able to propose the dismissal of any judge of the Constitutional Court.  The dismissal will be executed by the obedient Federation Council (to which no-one is appointed without the preliminary approval of the Presidential Administration).  Therefore, this Sword of Damocles will always hang over every judge.  If, for example, there is suddenly a call to recognise as unconstitutional something that has been signed by the president.

Third, the president will now be able effectively to slow down the legislative process by asking the Constitutional Court to check the constitutionality of a bill that he is required to sign into law.  As for how the Court will respond to the president’s requests — see the previous paragraph.

Fourth, the Constitutional Court will acquire the right to decide whether Russia should comply with “decisions taken by international bodies on the basis of the provisions of international treaties signed by Russia that are found to contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation,” and also with “decisions taken by a foreign or international court, or an international arbitrator, that impose obligations on the Russian Federation, in the event that such a judgment contradicts the foundations of public law in the Russian Federation.”

It is obvious that, if the Kremlin does not wish to comply with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) or of other international courts or arbitrators, the Constitutional Court will immediately find grounds for this.  This means that Russian citizens are unlikely to be able to use the ECtHR to reassert rights that have been violated by officials.  This is regardless of the fact that, by signing the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia undertook to comply with the decisions of the ECtHR without question.

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