President of the RF Constitutional Court proposes amendments to Russian laws which will limit the right of Russian citizens to file complaints to the European Court oа Human Rights


10 July 2007

As the Kommersant newspaper reports, Mr. Valery Zorkin, the President of the RF Constitutional Court, proposed to make amendments to Russian laws which will limit the right of Russian citizens to file complaints to the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, the President believes that applicants must go through all judicial instances, including the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Arbitration before lodging a complaint with the European Court. Experts think that this initiative of Mr. Zorkin can be explained by ever-growing number of applications from Russia and that the European Court brings in “judgments unsuitable for the Kremlin”. Mr. Valery Zorkin stated during his interview to the Interfax on Saturday that it was necessary to change the rules for submission of applications by Russians to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He believes that “a provision should be added to Russian laws according to which an application to the European Court will be possible only after the exhaustion of domestic remedies”.

    According to article 35 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which stipulates the admissibility criteria “the Court may only deal with the matter after all domestic remedies have been exhausted, according to the generally recognised rules of international law, and within a period of six months from the date on which the final decision was taken”. In practice, according to lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky who has many times represented applicants before the European Court, the Court considers the decision of the first court of appeal as the exhaustion of domestic remedies. In accordance with the Rules of Court the applicant is to provide information that all domestic remedies have been exhausted and if otherwise then submit reasons for non-exhaustion. Most often, according to Mr. Agranovsky, Russian applicants submit in this connection that Russian superior courts deal with cases for a very long time.

    “Application to the European Court right after the court of appeal, leaving out the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Arbitration results in a great many of complaints submitted to the European Court. At the same time the summit of the judicial power pyramid is cut off”, Mr. Valery Zorkin said with discontent, “being a supranational body, the European Court, replacing the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Arbitration and partly the Constitutional Court, acts as a national body what is contrary to its origin and destination”. He reminded that applications from Russia make up 20 percent of the total number of applications received by the Court in Strasbourg. “We need a two-way movement. TheEuropean Courthas to acknowledge it and change the position it is standing”, summarized Mr. Zorkin.

    Russia is the largest supplier of applications to the European Court of Human Rights. On 1 February 2007 the Court was dealing with 92 150 cases, 20 250 of which (22 percent) had come from Russia. The number of complaints from Russia is constantly increasing: in 2001 they were 2 490, in 2002 – 4 716, in 2003 – 6 602, in 2004 – 7 855, in 2005 – 10 009, in 2006 – 10 569. In 2006 the European court passed 249 judgements concerning cases from Russia, 202 of which the country lost and paid out 1 370 thousand euros and 1 million roubles in compensation to victims. At present the Court, inter alia, is dealing with complaints of the defence of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, 89 victims of the tragedy in Beslan, head of the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship Stanislav Dmitrievsky, and leader of the liquidated Republican Party Vladimir Ryzhkov.

    Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the parliamentary committee on legislation and a member of the ruling party, advocated the initiative of Mr. Zorkin, but conceded to the newspaper: “We cannot change anything, as it is one of the principles of international law”. The State Duma by refusing to sign Protocol No.14 to the Convention has already foiled the reform of the European Court which could speed up the examination of cases. Russia is the only among 46 countries which did not ratify the document.

    “The proposition of Mr. Zorkin is against the European Convention”, believes lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky, “I don’t know into which law such a provision can be introduced, but apparently not into the Criminal Procedure Code”. According to him, there are now four applications of the natsbols (extremist Russian organisation) being examined by the Court. None of the cases went trough all the judicial instances in Russia, however three of them were given priority by the Court. “In particular, we complained against the preventive measure imposed on leader of Moscow natsbols Roman Popkov and activist Aleksey Makarov who had already spent one year in a pre-trial detention center”, says Mr. Agranovsky, “if we try to go through all Russian Courts, the guys will be sitting behind the bars for ages. The European Court is more expeditious and its decisions in most cases are contrary to the decisions of Russian courts”.    Dmitry Agranovsky is convinced that the statement of the President of the Constitutional Court was a consequence of the ever-growing number of complaints from Russia and the number of “judgements unsuitable for the Kremlin”. MP Vladimir Ryzhov supported his opinion: “The existing situation speaks for a weakness of our system. I would personally advise Mr. Zorkin not to treat the symptoms of the disease – the number of complaints – but to treat the paralysis of Russian judicial system”.

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