“I can confidently say that the Russian Association of Judges has been established itself as an institute”
Yuri Ivanovich Sidorenko for seventeen years, before retiring, served as the Chairman of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation.
The great experience of work with public institutes of judges from different countries allowed him to conclude that their goals, as well as the ways of their activities, are generally very similar.
Soon, on his initiative and with the support of his colleagues, the all-Russian public organization “Russian Association of Judges” (RAJ) has been created - a structure that provides support to judges in various life and professional situations.
The goals and competencies of the RAJ have been formed according to the model of the International Association of Judges, uniting many foreign judicial organizations. In April 2012, the Charter of RAJ was adopted.
Yuri Ivanovich, you have been heading the RAJ since the very moment of its creation. In your opinion, have the goals that were set during the formation of the association been achieved?
I would say that only one goal remains unfulfilled: joining the International Association of Judges.
Why did this happen?
It was a conscious decision. After the creation of the RAJ, we were invited twice to take part in meetings of the International Association: one took place in 2012 in Alexandria, near Washington, and the second in 2013 in Yalta. At these meetings, we discussed our joining the international organization, but eventually we came to the conclusion, that we need to wait a bit with the membership. I have developed good and kind relations with the president of the Association, Giacomo Oberto, we still communicate, and therefore, it is impossible to say that the RAJ remains on the sidelines of the international community of judges. But everything has its time.
Moreover, we keep in touch with colleagues from other countries, including the republics of the former USSR. Our communication always takes place on a very friendly note. After all, people and their problems are the same everywhere. Similarly, those who chose the profession of a judge are similar to each other. And the corporate community of judges is always the strongest, connected by common views on legality, law and its high significance in society.
So I can say with confidence that our Association has been established. Today it unites 77 really operating regional branches in the majority of constituent entities of the Russian Federation and about 17 thousand members.
Was it difficult to gather so many participants in the Russian Association of Judges?
There was no special campaign for joining RAJ. Initially, it was decided that the organization would act on the principles of voluntariness, without coercion and persuasion: there will be as many people as want to join. If at first the ranks of RAJ were replenished slowly, now the number of participants increases every year., For example, a regional office has been created on Sakhalin recently.
The Central Council of RAJ decided that part of the membership fees will be returned to the field. At the beginning, this part was 30%, then it grew up to 50% and, finally, to 75%. Such an approach significantly stimulates the activities of regional offices - the information is available on the RAJ website, and open to all interested. All events held by RAJ participants are covered both in the local press and on our website, so that any user can see himself how initiative and energetic Tatarstan, Stavropol, Bashkortostan, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Petersburg are in their projects.
And what else has changed over the years in RAJ?
The essence of our organization, laid down during its creation, has remained the same. But, you can trace a certain logic of the development of the judicial community. First the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation was created — an organization that truly influences the life of judges in the country. It is formed on the basis of the law, financed from the budget, has some state powers, and there is no voluntary membership in it. That is, it is not a public organization in its purest form.
At some point, the development of the judicial community showed the need for an organization that would encompass the life of judges beyond their work. For example, it would help them in difficult situations, would allow them to realize themselves elsewhere - in sports or art. After all, the judicial manpower is very closed, and the ability of judges to publicly express themselves in other areas, except for their main activity, is more than limited.
So the RAJ has been created, the focus of which is the private life of judges. In fact, we are doing what the Labor Unions and the Komsomol (All-Union Lenin Communist Youth League) did before - we organize all kinds of creative and sports competitions, provide assistance to those who are in trouble, work with veterans, finance conferences, help create museums and publish books dedicated to anniversary or simply significant date of the judge to whom the publication is devoted, or books about the history of regional court. For example, recently, we and the Council of Judges published a collection of poems written by judges together. We plan to publish the second volume, because we had a lot of talented judge-authors.
By the way, privately I find these verses very interesting. Indeed, they were created by people who know and observe daily in the courtrooms human passions - suffering, humility and the manifestation of pure love. And all this is reflected in poetry.
What other events do you plan to hold in 2020?
We have scheduled a reporting and election conference in May. According to the RAJ Charter, the central council and governing bodies of the association are elected for four years. Therefore, now we are preparing the next election, especially because many current members of the central council have retired and resigned. We drew up and sent a letter to the regions asking them to elect delegates to the reporting and election conference. We are also preparing the financial reports.
In addition, each regional representative office of RAJ draws up its own action plan. Of course, we give them rough guidelines and lists of issues that can be addressed, but they have the right not to follow our advice. This is our principled position, which we adhere to from the very beginning. And life shows that this position is, in general, correct. There is no need to impose anything on anyone.
And what activities psychologically help judges, allow, for example, to fight against professional burnout?
These, of course, are sports competitions and creative contests. We held several such events, including the All-Russian Chess Championship in Kazan, organized jointly with the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation. As far as I know, Stavropol, Bashkortostan and St. Petersburg also dealt with these issues.
Will you organize other such big events?
If there will be such an initiative of the RF subjects, because the organizational load, which is quite big, lies primarily on them.
You said that RAJ helps judges, who are in trouble. How often does it happen?
Quite rare? fortunately,. But those who addresses us for help, never get refusal. For example, we give money for the treatment, for the expensive drugs.
The prize "Judge of the year" will be awarded this year for the sixth time. How are elected the candidates?
There are several criteria, including professional indicators, participation in the work of community. Local branches of the RAJ elect candidates themselves and send us data on them. From our part there is a special committee, which elects from these candidates ten people and sends the decision in the Central council for approval.
How does the reward happen?
We usually reward judges right here in Moscow. But if the winner of the other region can not come, the award is given in the relevant subject to the festive atmosphere.
Is it possible to call the RAJ an optimal form of self-organization of judges?
All depends on the goals and context of self-organization. International, as, well as Russian, rules give judges unrestricted right to the creation of associations, unions. For example, there are organizations based on branch categories of cases - as the Association of administratively judges. Since 1991, there is an International Association of women judges, its member and representative of Russia was Nina Y. Sergeyeva – the unique personality and wonderful woman. Since 1940 she was a member of the Supreme Court of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) and then since 1944 was its vice-chair.
And who are in the majority within the RAJ: men or women?
Women. They make up to 70 per cent. The judiciary has a women's face. This gender majority appeared a long time ago, in the Soviet times, and I don't think that in the coming years will change something.
How large is the RAJ administrative office?
Besides me, the RAJ office includes the chairman of the executive committee, an accountant, a record keeper and two assistants. Their work is paid from membership fees. I work on a voluntary basis.
Based on your own work experience, what advice would you give to current judges?
I would say that it is necessary to transfer professional experience from generation to generation, from senior judges to young ones. When I myself came to work in a district court, three generations worked there: my peers, people ten years older than us, and judges with thirty years of experience. And we learned from them, adopted their knowledge, experience and even, one might say, views.
Is there such mentoring in modern courts?
When I became chairman of the Nevsky District Court, I laid down the tradition of mentoring. A new courthouse was built a couple of years ago, and the current chairman invited me, so to speak, on an excursion. There I learned that this tradition still exists. But, of course, this is not practiced in all courts.
What prospects do you see for retired judges in connection with the adoption of the Rules for the conduct of judicial reconciliation?
The Union of Lawyers invited us to participate in the creation of such an arbitration court. To begin with, we conducted a survey in the subjects, learned what the retired judges think about this idea. And they did not express much enthusiasm for such work. Therefore, we did not develop this topic.
Can we say that judges have changed in recent years?
The judges themselves - no, but the working conditions have become much better. Ten years ago, for example, American court hearings held via videoconferencing seemed fantastic to us. And now it has become our reality. And the buildings were built no worse than abroad. Many processes are being technologized and automated.
How do you feel about the appearance of a robot judge?
There is no machine capable to replace a live judge, and no one wants it. Robot function will still remain additional. The most important thing is that the figure of the judge and the judicial discretion will remain.
Yuri Ivanovich, thank you for this interesting interview!