Respect for the judiciary corps depends on judges — on our honesty, objectivity, justice

Yuriy Ivanovich Sidorenko  is a retired  judge of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, honoured lawyer of the Russian Federation, the Chairman  of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation from 1995 to 2012. Currently, Yuriy Ivanovich is the head of the Russian public organization "Russian Association of Judges", created April 17, 2012.

Dear Yuri Ivanovich, you were a member of the first Presidium of the Council of Judges. Tell us how the Council was created?

 

In 1991 preparation to the 1st all-Russian Congress of judges has started. For this purpose the Organizing Committee had been created. It included several judges, known by the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice due to their active positions, in particular, the Chairman s of the regional courts of Ulyanovsk and Moscow regions Anatoly V. Zherbtsov and Mikhail M. Bobrov, as well as Harold N. Kartsev, the Chairman  of the Sevastopol district people's Court of the Moscow city.

The first Congress of judges of the Russian Federation was held in October 1991, where  it was decided to establish a representative body of the judicial community the Council of Judges. It was a pure initiative of judges. Such a body was not mentioned in any law or regulation. The Council of Judges was established on the initiative of the judges themselves. It was proposed that  each entity of the Russian Federation nominated one representative. from.

The Council was assembled in March 1992 for the first time. It was very emotional, noisy, because then the judicial system was in a state of disrepair.  All over Russia there were hundreds of registration letters from  judges, and there were no persons wishing to be a judge, therefore, the members of the Council of Judges made noise, screamed, expressed outrage — in short, behaved unusually for judges.

 

So, it was the first case in the history of the Soviet judiciary corps when the judges got together and began to solve common problems, install, say, a corporate communications?

 

Yes. And let me repeat: a meeting was held on the initiative of the judges themselves, without any directives from the top. After the noise of the tumult has terminated, a constructive discussion of organizational matters began. We decided to create a working body, the Presidium of the Council of Judges, small and mobile, so it could gather and operatively solve all questions. The Presidium was formed of the judges being members of the Organizing Committee. Apparently, those who had distinguished themselves at the Council meeting were chosen.

 

Harold N. Kartsev proposed nine candidates for the Presidium of the Council. One week later the newly elected Presidium met again in Moscow. Our meeting took place in the Sevastopol district people's Court in Moscow, or on Azov Street, in a building of the dormitory of the Russian Legal Academy of the Ministry of Justice of the Russia. The first meeting of the Council elected the Chairman t of the Presidium, it was Harold N. Kartsev.

 

 Why is he?

 

I think, firstly, because he is well proved himself at the time of the preparation of the 1st Congress of judges: he was active, principled, not afraid to argue with superiors and express his opinion, enjoyed popularity among the judicial community in Moscow. And secondly, it was necessary that the Chairman could personally attend all events organized by authorities and affecting the judiciary. And since all authorities - Ministries, other bodies and the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation itself are located in Moscow, - the selection of Harold Nikolayevich as the Chairman  proved unerring. He certainly coped with the responsibilities and challenges that stood in front of the Council at the first stage.

 

 What issues were  priorited  in the work of the Council?

 

The first task of the Presidium was a pinning of the high status of judges, because it was necessary to strengthen social, professional status of judges, raise the prestige of the judicial office. June 26, 1992, the Law of the Russian Federation № 3132-1 “On the status of judges in the Russian Federation” was adopted, which formulated for the first time the concepts such as "judicial community", "judicial authority ". If before this Law the term "judicial authority” still met in the legal literature, it did not exist in any normative legal act. The part of the fundamental principles of the functioning of the judicial authority included in the new law, later has been included to the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

 

It possible to say that you and your colleagues had created the history of the judicial authority.

                                                      

We are still proud of the law so far. It remains the basic legal act fastening judicial system. Its first lines were written in March 1992. Firstly the members of the Presidium of the Council of Judges and representatives of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation had worked on it: in particular, Vladimir V. Demidov, Secretary of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, who was also a member the Presidium, and Vladimir I. Radchenko, first Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. During the Presidium meetings, we met regularly with the Chairman  of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav M. Lebedev, discussing with him the text of the draft law. Then representatives of the State Legal Department of the President and of the Committee on legislation of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR have joined work on the law. And, if I am not mistaken, in may a draft Law on the status of judges was introduced for the consideration of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR.

 

I want to point out the uniqueness of this law. As the draft law, it was proposed at the same time by the Chairman , the Committee on legislation of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, and the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. It means that on its origins there were three subject of legislative initiative from all three branches of power. In my opinion, this was not happen again. The speed of adoption of the law impressed too: since the first line to the adoption and the signature by the President only three months have passed. This is also its uniqueness, especially by that time there had been conflict between the legislative and executive branches, which then led to the tragedy of the year 1993. But they have joined forces to help the judiciary.

 

How have you represented yourself the future Law when the draft law was developed,? How passed the discussion?

 

It was held in hot disputes. We have used all the experience we had at that time, but it was necessary to create some things from zero. For example, the Law has for the the first time mentioned the ratio of salary of the Chairman  of the Court and ordinary judges. Without such established correlation, there was a large gap in salary. And we tied salaries of ordinary judges to the first-person payroll. In General, it introduced a lot of social novels.

This law was the law of transitional period — with some standards it was facing the future, other rules have grown up from the past. So the main principles of court operation were formulated, namely: the independence and the autonomy of the Court. At that time they sounded somewhat declaratively, at least because even the majority of the buildings, in which the courts worked, totally did not correspond to the declared high status of the Court. On the other hand, the law largely reflected the recent past and the existing situation of the country: for example, it included rules on the right of a judge to an extraordinary installation of the phone line, booking of hotel reservations, booking of air and railway tickets. However, any law reflects the realities that it is meant to regulate.

I must say that so far a lot of changes were included in the law, which, in my opinion, hadadjusted it far not in a good way. Nevertheless, it still remains one of the basic laws, it can be said the Foundation of the judicial system.

 

 In any case, the law would need to be amended for such a long period of time.

 

In my opinion, the less changes means the better. And if we make any changes, then only directly on the initiative of the judicial community. Per example, the abolition of the probationary period - is one of the changes which I appreciate as a change for the better — it was carried out on the initiative of the Council of Judges. When the Law was adopted,such a period was required   , because the task was formed by a judicial corps in the absence of wanting to become a judge and absence of the selection system that exists now. By the way, it is possible that this selection is too hard in some matters, per example, concerning the conflict of interest. But I think that with time everything will come back to norm. And I repeat: I am an opponent of frequent changes in the basic legislation. They have to be made only when there are no other options for resolving the situation, and in the case of our law, the initiative should come from the community of judges.

 

Why, the Council of Judges addressed appeals to the President and the Government in 2001, and then in 2007, but in subsequent years, there was no such appeals? And how the President has responded to these appeals?

 

The President always gave orders according to the results of consideration of appeals of judges. Another thing is that these orders were not always implemented to the end so as to completely solve all questions. for  example, until now the question of the salary of the apparatus of the Court is not resolved. We have made several appeals to the President about this, previously having exhausted all possible cases (to the Ministry of Justice, to the Ministry of finance, to the Ministry of economic development, etc.). The apparatus of the Executive Branch, including the Ministry of Finance, has received an order, and after a while we got the answer that the question is being studied in combination with other issues. And all ended.

If I am not mistaken, in 1998, there was the case —- when the Ministry of finance has sequestered budget of the judicial system because of the economic crisis in the country, although there is a direct prohibition in the Federal Constitutional law of December 31, 1996 "On judicial system of the Russian Federation ": The Government has no right to sequester the budget of the judicial system in comparison with the previous year without the consent of the Council of Judges. We have indicated this to the Ministry of finance, but no reaction followed. The Supreme Court then turned to the Constitutional Court, which considered that in this case the Government had exceeded its powers and breached the requirements of constitutional law. The Finance Ministry has not responded again. We went ahead and requested the General prosecutor to institute criminal proceedings against the Minister of finance for the non-execution of decisions of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and the abuse of power.

We know that on the sidelines they were long arguing what to do with our appeal, but in the end, the Ministry of finance admitted they were wrong, and the budget of the judiciary was restored. We, in turn, reported to the Prosecutor's Office that we do not insist on the institution of criminal proceedings. In General, all ended peacefully. Some years later, these twists and turns, were forgotten and information reached us that the Ministry of Finance again going to sequester the budget of the judiciary. We are not waiting for formal documents from the Ministry, appealed directly to the President, described the situation, listed regulations, including the decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, issued on this occasion. And as a result, the Ministry did not reduce funding. Here is the direct result of direct appeal to the President.

Again we had to appeal to the President during the activities of the Council under the President of the Russian Federation on the improvement of Justice, with which we had a lot of disagreements concerning its activities. We considered that the Council's proposals are a step back from what has been achieved and that they reduce the guarantee of the independence of the judiciary. We have approached the President with our counter-proposals, objections, have justified our position. The President defered to the opinion of judges, and many provisions, against which we have pronounced, were not included.

Russian judicial community goes to legitimate, legal ways to resolve all contentious issues, though, of course, there are other ways. In France, per example, judges went on strike, throwing codes in the building of the French Ministry of Justice. Our Council of Judges agreed that we need to act within the law and not to hold demonstrations. True, there were attempts to declare a strike in the 1990-ies, when money was tight, but even then the Council of Judges said that it is not our method and that we should not deny citizens access to justice. It is necessary to work, no matter how bad is our situation, and fight for our rights solely by legal methods.

 

 And why I Congress of judges was held without participation of the arbitration and the military courts?

 

At the time of the first Congress the Soviet Union still existed. But the Congress was Russian, i.e. judges gathered in the Russian Federation, and military judges were included in the federal system. Republican military courts simply not existed, and federal judges were subordinated directly to the Supreme Court of the USSR and the Ministry of Justice of the USSR, so their representatives have not participated in the Congress, as well as judges of Ukraine, Uzbekistan and other republics. Russia was the first republic which conducted such a Congress. The arbitration judges not existed yet, State arbitration acted, but it was the system of quasi-judicial bodies. Law of the USSR from May 17, 1991 No. 2170-1 "On the Supreme Arbitration Court of the USSR" was introduced only in July, so that by the time of the Congress the arbitration courts have only begun to be formed (and in fact they generally not existed). But in the second Congress arbitration and military courts had already participated.

Unfortunately, the USSR had already ceased to exist. Military courts became part of Russia, figuratively speaking, under the wing of the Supreme Court of the RSFSR, in which was established the military college, and became a part of the judicial community of the Russian Federation. Naturally, we invited them to participate in the Congress. Arbitration judges came to us themselves: by the time their system of courts had already been formed, and the judges have expressed the wish to participate. We accepted them, determined a quota for them. In my opinion, 15 people from the arbitration courts took part in the Council of Judges. They elected delegates according to the rules which the Council determined for them and participated in the work starting from the second Congress.

 

Why was the 3rd extraordinary Congress of judges convened and what was the role of the Council of Judges in preparation for that event?

 

If memory serves me, the extraordinary Congress was convened in 1994 at the initiative of the President of the Russian Federation Boris N. Yeltsin. After the tragic events of 1993 the new federal constitutional law of July 21, 1994 no. 1-FCL "on the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation" was adopted, which increased the Court up to 19 people. As a result, six vacancies formed, and the President proposed to the judicial Community to nominate 12 candidates (i.e. two for each place), so the extraordinary Congress was convened.

Congress has identified 12 candidates to the Constitutional Court with the majority of votes and sent the list to the President.

One judge from this list was elected to the Constitutional Court (it was Vladimir G. Yaroslavtsev, judge of the Leningrad City Court) immediately, and the second one, Gennady A. Zhilin (Supreme Court judge), I think, two years later. That is, two judges of the Constitutional Court were delegated by the judicial community. This is a good result, which shows that already in two years of its existence, the Council gained some credibility not only among judges, but also  among other authorities.

 However, the extraordinary Congress did not limit itself to solve only this issue. At that time, other problems accumulated. We, for example, discussed the concept of the judicial Department. This idea appeared in drafting the law on the status of judges. It quickly found a general understanding and support, nobody argued that we needed a body to deal only with the support of the courts activities. The Ministry of Justice had a lot of directions of activity - notary, advocacy, legal propaganda, etc., so ensuring the activities of the Court were not a major activity. We felt that there must be a body that would deal only with the courts, and all judges have agreed to that. There was no only of consent, on how the body should be. Some judges, including myself, told that it must be autonomous from the Ministry and act within the judicial system. Others feared to go away from the Ministry of Justice in suspense. In the end, with a small margin won those who believed that the Department should be in the system of the Ministry of Justice. The Congress adopted this decision and instructed the Ministry to establish the judicial Department. However, the Ministry did nothing, and already at the next Congress, the judges unanimously have voted that the Department was out of bodies of executive power.

 

What importance for judges have reviews and generalizations, prepared by the Council of Judges?

 

The Council of Judges has several standing committees, which provide, if necessary, interpretation of some provisions of the law on the status of judges and publish generalizations based on analysis of questions and answers approved by the Presidium. These generalizations are null and void, but the judicial community still takes them into account — at least because they are prepared by high level lawyers, as a rule, judges with great experience holding high official position ( Chairmans of regional courts, or their deputies). If necessary, for example if there is a doubt how to solve an issue, they attract lawyers, representatives of science. As a result, the courts when considering the cases,

 take into account  their generalizations and reviews.

 

How the Councils of Judges were organized on the ground, how often have you travelled to the regions to assist new Councils in the work?

 

The law on the status of judges settled the question of the establishment of the regional councils of judges. We have sent in the subjects of Federation letters inviting to form local councils of judges. The members of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation were also involved in this work: for example, I participated in the formation of the Regional Council in Leningrad. The country was divided into several regions, and certain regions have been assigned to the members of the Presidium. When the fieldwork was arranged, our patronage over the regions ceased and a Special Commission was established for relations with councils of judges of constituent entities of the Russian Federation. We held a visiting session of the Presidium of the all-Russian Council in different areas and regions. The truth is that in the future we had to abandon this format of works, not least because of the financial side of the issue. But it was a very useful experience, live communication, exchange of views.

 

In your opinion, do the judges are enough involved in the activities of the self-regulatory organizations, in particular in the work of the councils of judges? Is there a need to change anything in the procedure of elections to councils of judges?

 

Now, when the Russian Association of judges has appeared, each judge can participate in any activities of the judicial community, if desires. When there is only one organization — the councils of judges, the involvement of judges can be a bit limited, despite the fact that the composition of the Councils is constantly changing, personnel rotation is performed. I must say that many judges have passed through the Councils. This is the useful work that enlarges the horizon and lets see some question not from one sided, but in the scale of region and of country. This is important and interesting, primarily because our country is large, regions are different and approaches in them are different too. When the judges from different constituent entities of the Russian Federation come together, it is interesting to listen to even a simple conversation between them. What to say about cases when they discuss any pressing issues!

When the Russian Association of judges was in the stage of creation, there were fears that it will compete with the councils of judges. I was sure from the outset that there will be no competition, because the Council of Judges is engaged in professional activities of judges and courts, and the Association is dealing with matters which earlier were a problem of trade unions and social organizations (Komsomol, Youth, etc.), i.e., legal advocacy, charity, help to ill persons and persons in distress. Within the framework of the Association we have paid costly medications, treatment. Moreover, the life does not consist only of a single work, and so we organize sports competitions, creative contests, including among children, organize roundtables, scientific-practical conferences. Recently, together with the Supreme Court of Tatarstan and the Russian State University of Justice we held a Conference on jury trials, and earlier — in Stavropol, Conference dedicated to the 15 anniversary of world justice. In the year 2014, several regions have held conferences dedicated to the 150 anniversary of the judicial reform of 1864. As a rule, councils of judges and Russian regional associations interact, jointly organize events. We have the extra budgetary funds that we can spend on something, for example, on what Council has no money. We have only the membership fees, but they are sufficient to carry out these activities

 

Russian Association of judges established the award the “Judge of the year ". Please, tell us about it.

 

This award was established to highlight those, whose work really should be evaluated on merit, whose selfless labor has to find recognition and approval from the part of colleagues. We have created a special competitive commission, adopted regulations concerning the award. The Winner receives a diploma and a valuable gift.

When come the idea to establish an award, we identified key criteria for its awarding, the selection of nominees, and now the regions exhibit every year candidates, of which the competition Commission selects the 10 winners (there are 10 of them because we do not want to dilute the value of the Award, devalue it). In the Council we announce their names and hand them over the award. We have already handed over the award twice.

I believe that this is a successful beginnings, which could unite the community. To get such an award is to be recognized by the community of judges, and it means a lot. In General, I would like to see a society concerned with respect to all representatives of the judiciary, not only to those who have received the award. Respect for the judiciary largely depends on judges — from our honesty, objectivity, fairness. People are always looking for the truth in court.

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