Every year in Russia, hundreds of laws are adopted, old laws are reformed and new ones are created. Opinion polls show that there are too many laws and that the quality of many of them is poor. At the same time, progress in law enforcement is scarcely observed.
On April 7, at a plenary session on the development of law, Russian and international experts, along with representatives of key professional associations discussed the factors and mechanisms that contribute to establishing the rule of law in the country.
As noted by Anton Ivanov, Academic Supervisor of HSE’s Faculty of Law, in opening the plenary session, there is the widespread belief that Russian society lacks demand for law. People are preoccupied with everyday problems and are not concerned with legal justice. Only an ambitious minority is interested in the rule of law, so no positive change can take place here. ‘But this is not the case’, said Ivanov. ‘At least half of the working population directly faces various forms of law’. As many as 50% of the population in some areas is familiar with criminal law (they have a criminal record). Matters of civil law are also faced by numerous people in family and labour disputes, as well as in division of property. ‘We are dealing with a concealed but not yet expressed demand for law’, said Ivanov.
Demand for law consists of three components: equity in law enforcement, certainty, and fair justice. The greatest number of complaints concerns selective enforcement of judgments when similar cases are handled differently. For example, one person may be given a serious prison term, while another may go free for the same crime.
Fair justice requires that jurisprudence identify and take into account all the circumstances of the case and treat similar cases equally.
The lack of civil initiative to protect rights is compensated by the initiative of the state.
Vadim Volkov, Head of the Research Institute for the Rule of Law and Vice Rector at the European University in St. Petersburg, said that most lawsuits come from the Federal Tax Service (22.8% of total), the Pension Fund (4.6%) and utilities organizations (16.7%). High activity on the part of the state in identifying economic crimes is also notable. ‘We are dealing with the mobilization of a patronage system of law’, said Volkov.
It should be noted that 99.5% of cases result in a conviction. At the same time, Yuri Pilipenko, president of the Federal Chamber of Lawyers, noted that judges feel themselves to be a part of the law enforcement system and do not perform their duties properly.
Participants noted tha establishing the rule of law (or at least coming close to it) is not possible without a strong civil initiative. People rather than the state should create demand for law in the country. According to Kathryn Hendley, Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the legal nihilism of society is due to the fact that the people on top do not listen and make laws that are difficult to understand and enforce. ‘Laws must be such that they can be used quickly and easily without instructions and regulations’ she said.
Sergey Pashin, Professor in the HSE Faculty of Law, drew attention to the fact that while juries are a good tool to establish the rule of law in the country, they are currently being eliminated. ‘The right to a jury is at odds with the right of a judge’, he explained. ‘In a jury trial there are twenty times more acquittals’. Jurors require proof of guilt, pay attention to the inaction of lawyers, and question the validity of an investigation and trial if the defendant is tortured. ‘The right to have a jury is a human right, and juries need to be increased rather than eliminated’, he said.Volkov said that using information technologies could get the situation moving in that that they would enable the mobilization of law in society. He gave an example of how people can solve the problem of car parking together with the traffic police in a city. The Spot mobile application helps in recording violations and in submitting them to the traffic police without having to meet with law enforcement agencies or spend considerable time and effort. Already more than 50,000 people are actively using this application.