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Russia marks Constitutional Court’s 20th anniversary

October 28, 2011, 12:58 UTC+3
President Dmitry Medvedev and described the Court as “a vaccine against totalitarian habits” and a symbol of the Russian democratic state
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MOSCOW, October 28 (Itar-Tass) --- On Thursday the Kremlin marked the 20th anniversary of the Constitutional Court. President Dmitry Medvedev praised judges for their fruitful work and described the Court as “a vaccine against totalitarian habits” and a symbol of the Russian democratic state. Experts regret that the Constitutional Court stopped to play any significant role in the current political system and had not showed proper activity, when the authorities were changing the Constitution.

The head of state held a ceremonial meeting in the Kremlin, where along with the chairman of the Russian Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, heads of other countries’ constitutional courts were present, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily noted.

Dmitry Medvedev called the creation of the Constitutional Court a milestone for the country that during that period chose the path of freedom, democracy and supremacy of law. He even described the Court as “a vaccine against totalitarian habits,” noting that even two decades since it was established constitutional justice remains on demand.

Earlier Zorkin told a news conference devoted to the court’s 20th anniversary that recently the Constitutional Court has not practically cancelled any decree of the president or the government, the daily wrote. He explained this by a growing number of state institutions, thus rejecting journalists’ suppositions that the courts simply do not want to have dealings with the authorities.

A member of the research council of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, Andrei Ryabov, noted in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta that of late the Constitutional Court plays no noticeable role in Russia’s political system. “At present, the authorities have no demand for the Constitutional Court’s independence. I as a citizen would like to see higher activity of the Court, when the talk is about amendments to be made to the Constitution, for instance such as the extension of powers of the president and the State Duma,” he said.

The 20th anniversary of the Constitutional Court is marked in Russia on a grand state scale, the Vedomosti daily wrote in its editorial. But the festivities seem sad. Even foreign colleagues rebuked the court for the last years’ servility.

Ideologists of the court’s creation hoped that it can become an unbiased supreme judge in most intricate disputes between citizens and bureaucracy, capable of influencing the key political events. It is not the guilt, but most probably the trouble of the Constitutional Court that its attempts to put the authorities within the bounds of law are not always consistent and face strong bureaucratic resistance at all levels.

Bureaucratic invasion on the Constitutional Court began, Vedomosti wrote. In 2008 despite some judges’ resistance, the court moved to St. Petersburg. One more thing is illustrative – the lawyer-president who announced inadmissibility of interfering into the court’s activities restricted in June 2009 the judges’ autonomy depriving them of the right to elect their chairman and deputies. From now on the head of state will nominate candidates himself and submit their candidacies to the Federation Council for consideration. Over the past several years many independent judges retired to be replaced by lawyers who got used to justify the authorities’ actions. The court also changed its chairman, who now fears to conflict with the executive authorities on principal issues. Judges began to defend the letter and not the spirit of the Constitution. In July 2004 they sanctioned new inspections of former oil giant Yukos having recognized the Tax Code’s norm allowing to extend the term of inspections on tax-related cases as constitutional. Then Zorkin announced that “as far as the society develops, the Constitutional Court’s legal views can be specified.” At the same time the court ceased to be a platform for debates. The chairman of the court’s first convocation, Anatoly Kononov, who expressed his special opinion on principal cases more often than others did and who described as “undemocratic” a measure to cancel the election of the court’s chairman, lost his position in 2009

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