Chairman of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation, Judge of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation
“If we want to have an independent judge, he must be appointed by presidential decree”
Yuri SIDORENKO was born in 1945 in the city of Sumy (Ukrainian SSR).
In 1974 he graduated from the Law Faculty of the Leningrad State University (now - Saint Petersburg State University).
Since 1974 he is in the judicial system, he worked in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) as a district judge, the chairman of a district court. Since 1993 he is a Judge of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. He has been participating in the work of the bodies of the judicial community of the Russian Federation since their creation in 1992. In 1995, he was elected the Chairman of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation.
In 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 he has been re-elected to this position.
Yuri Ivanovich is an Honored Lawyer of the Russian Federation.
The last time he was in Kiev 55 years ago. And now, after 38 years of experience in the judicial system, the judge of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, Chairman of the Council of Judges of Russia Yuri SIDORENKO, with his colleagues, arrived in the Ukrainian capital. He told representatives of the judiciary in Ukraine about the achievements of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation for 20 years of existence, about the issues that are most affect the bodies of the judicial community today. The program of the visit of the Russian delegation envisaged the interview of Yuri Ivanovich to our edition. He shared with the correspondent of the "Law and Business" his “Kiev memories” and told about the life of the Russian servants of Themis.
“The collapse of the judicial system threatened to have negative consequences for the whole country”
- Yuri Ivanovich, you were born in Ukraine. What connects you today with our country?
- As a citizen, I am connected with Ukraine by our joint history of more than a thousand years, by our common victories and achievements. Unfortunately if we talk about personal life, now only the graves of my relatives connect me with Ukraine: my grandmother, aunts, and other relatives are buried here. Ukraine for me is the memory of my childhood.
- For three days you managed to take a walk around Kiev. How do you like our capital? Has it changed since the last time you came here?
- The last time I was in Kiev 55 years ago, when I was 12 years old. Then I really liked the Ukrainian capital: a green cozy city with an ancient history. Who does not know Kiev? Any citizen of the Soviet Union admired, was proud of it and loved this city. Now I have the same impression. Many places are recognizable: I remembered them since my childhood.
- In March of this year, the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation celebrated its 20th anniversary. You were a member of the first Presidium of the Council of Judges. Tell us how the work of the body of judicial self-government began? In what conditions was the judicial system of Russia at that time?
- In the early 1990s, the judicial system experienced a deep crisis, it was in a state of disintegration. Hundreds of judges have resigned, there were hundreds of applications for resignation and no one was willing to become a judge. We had to work in terrible conditions, in unsuitable buildings: former baths houses, barracks, that were , God knows where.
Funding was at the most pitiable level, the courts were taken to the extreme.
- As far as we know, the first step of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation was the preparation of a draft law on the status of judges in the Russian Federation.
- In March 1992, the Council of Judges convened for the first meeting. It was noisy, emotional, the judges said that they had nothing to feed the families. As a result, everyone agreed on the need for a law on the status of judges. In June of the same year, the act was adopted. Thus, it took only three months to create this law important for the servants of Themis. The adoption of this document has permitted, firstly - to increase the prestige of the profession, and secondly - to give judges guarantees of independence and social guarantees.
The law preserved the judicial community from disintegration. The process of resignations of the servants of Themis stopped, because they believed that the judiciary would function properly. It is possible to say that from that moment the judicial reform had been started.
- How did you manage to take the act in such a short period of time?
- First, it was a necessity: The judges, the legislature, and the President - everyone understood it. They realized that the judicial system was in a critical situation and the court was one of the pillars of the state. That is the collapse of the judicial system threatened negative consequences for the whole country.
- Secondly, the judges really wanted this law adopted. They were actively engaged in its promotion by lobbying at all levels, as they were quite authoritative people, all had familiar deputies, representatives of executive bodies. At that time, state power in Russia was not so monolithic: there was a “crack” between executive and legislative powers. However strange it also contributed to the fact that in the law on the status of judges there was possible to fix provisions that would not exist in this document if one of the branches of power became monolithic. Paradoxically but favorable for us factors appeared at an unfavorable time for the country,: when the judicial system reached the point of falling, suddenly resources appeared that promoted the adoption of a law.
One more detail to mention: three branches of power introduced into the State Duma the relevant draft: the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation and the President. This is the unique case. I do not remember any more examples, that all branches of government would simultaneously submit a bill.
“The Judicial Department made great efforts to increase the budget almost 30 times”
- You realized that you need a body that will take “patronage” over the judicial system when the Law “On the Status of Judges in the Russian Federation” was already in force.. So the Judicial Department at the Supreme Court had been created? Did the Ministry of Justice resist the implementation of this idea? Were there any opponents of the idea to separat the judiciary from the executive?
- Yes, the resistance of the Ministry of Justice existed. There were many opponents of this idea. Moreover the judicial community did not immediately come to a common opinion. The servants of Themis instantly decided that such an organ was needed, and there was no dispute about this. The controversy was about the point in which system of government it should be. The opinions were divided at the Second All-Russian Congress of Judges: a little more than a half of the delegates believed that the Judicial Department should be under obedience of the Ministry of Justice: in the system of executive bodies. The rest of the delegates considered that it should be inside the judicial system. But a year passed, two, three, the Ministry did not created such an organ. The situation with the provision of operation of the courts was deteriorated. And although after the adoption of the Law on the Status of Judges, the fall of the judicial system into the abyss had slowed down. The underfunding remained due to the fact that the Ministry of Justice did not undertake any measures. Poor buildings, beggarly wages of the staff of the apparatus — all remained unchanged. Thus, the Law raised the status of judges, but other problems were not solved.
Then the judges come to the conclusion that the Ministry was not capable to perform the task entrusted to it, ensuring the activities of the courts. We have drafted a law on the Judicial Department, the Supreme Court submitted it to the State Duma, and we were supported there. As a result, in 1998 a body appeared that acted effectively. The Judicial Department is a federal state body that organizes activities for the supreme courts of the republics, the courts of areas and regions, the courts of federal cities, autonomous regions and autonomous districts, regional courts, military and specialized courts, judicial community bodies, financing of magistrates and creation of common information space of the federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates. If we compare the budgets that were executed by the Ministry (the last in ministry budget in 1997, and the budget since 1998 when the Judicial Department began to to execute it) and by the Judicial Department increased it almost 30 times. Of course, over the years the state has become richer, the budget has increased, the attitude of the government to the financing of courts has changed, but the Judicial Department made considerable efforts to increase the budget almost 30 times. This body is not executive, its representatives can come to the parliament session and say: “No, we do not agree with this or that”. The Judicial Department is independent of the government while the Ministry of Justice is part of the government.As you know, part of something cannot contradict the whole.
- Financing of the Ukrainian courts leaves much to be desired. From year to year Themis has not enough money, not only for the repairing of the premises or the purchase of equipment, but even for stationery. What is the situation with the financing of the Russian courts?
- The budget of the courts of general jurisdiction amounts up to $ 4 billion. Moreover we have implemented three targeted federal programs for which additional funds are allocated for computerization, the institute of assistants, capital construction. As a rule, each target program is designed for 4 years, its budget is 50–60 billion rubles. That is, every four years, the judicial system receives an additional $ 2 billion. This is a considerable amount, and we managed to do a lot using these funds. Today in Russia you will not see the squalid buildings of the courts. I would say more, in small towns, regional and district centers, often the buildings of the courts are the best buildings in these settlements. This is how new traditions arise: for example, newlyweds are photographed in front of the courts. All this contributes to strengthening the authority of the law, the judiciary. The court buildings are intended not only for employees of the apparatus or servants of Themis, they are for the citizens who come there. Of course, it is better to come to the temple of justice than to the byre.
- Please tell us about the cases when the judicial community needed to protect the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation, for example, from encroachment on financial independence?
- In accordance with Article 33 of the Law on the Judicial System of the Russian Federation, a government without the consent of the Council of Judges does not have the right to reduce the budget of the current year and submit to the parliament the budget of the next year less than in the previous year. In 1998, there was a crisis in Russia, and the government announced budget cuts. Funding for the maintenance of the judicial system decreased by 26.2%. This was done without the consent of the Council of Judges. We have paid attention of the government to this fact. When it did not respond in any way, the Supreme Court appealed to the Constitutional Court, and the Constitutional Court declared the actions of the Ministry of Finance illegal in this part. But it did not give any desired results. Then the Council appealed to the Prosecutor General with the requirement to bring the Minister of Finance to criminal responsibility for failure to comply with the decision of the Constitutional Court, for abuse of power.
The story ended with the fact that the Ministry of Finance admitted that it was wrong, that funding cuts did not happen. The Ministry of Finance never once neglected the rule of Article 33.
“The most active, reputable people are elected to our councils”
-There are only four councils of judges in Ukraine, each of them has 11 members. In Russia, there is the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation and the councils of judges of the subjects of the Russian Federation. Do you think the quality of work of the bodies of judicial self-government depends on their number?
- No, it does not. It all depends on how active and principled judges are in defending their positions. This is the main condition for the Council to be capable. Much depends on powers which the bodies of judicial self-government are determined by law, on the general legal culture in the state, on attitude to the court, and on community bodies. The number of council members does not affect the quality of work. The work of the Council depends on the people who are part of it. The most active, reputable people are elected to our councils. The results of their activities exist, and they are positive. Even the judicial reform in Russia was carried out successfully, because it had been carried out by the judges themselves, who were active supporters and proponents of the reform.
- I think that tremendous assistance in the implementation of all ideas is rendered by the highest judicial instances having the right of legislative initiative. In Ukraine that does not exist.
- Of course. The courts enjoy this right, especially the Supreme Court. It introduced a lot of bills. As a rule the majority passes through the parliament. But some are stuck there for a long time, such as the draft law on administrative courts.
- Regarding the administrative courts ... In our country they have been working for almost 7 years. Does the Council of Judges support and promote the idea of creating a system of administrative courts in Russia? Does your country need them?
- Yes, in this matter Ukraine has outstripped us. We believe that we need them. Moreover, this is not only our opinion. The Constitution states: The Supreme Court carries out criminal, civil and administrative legal proceedings. The draft law on administrative courts has been in the State Duma for ten years. It was adopted in the first reading, but then the case was stalled for various reasons.
- What exactly?
- One of the reasons is the opposition of courts of different types of jurisdiction. Another reason is when the draft has been submitted to the State Duma, there was a “parade of sovereignties”, there was a threat of disintegration of the state, because they proclaimed the slogan: “Take sovereignty as much as you like”. As a result, the central government weakened, and the local authorities felt their strength, they had more and more powers.
By the way, they also wanted to privatize the judicial system, if I may say so. But the most important, that the citizens were defenseless before the government. Therefore, a bill on administrative courts has been introduced. The authorities supported it. But when the central government strengthened its position, the court, which was supposed to consider the claims of citizens to the authorities, seemed to become unnecessary.
- I understand that the Council of Judges actively supports the idea of creating a system of administrative courts?
- Of course. This is a requirement of the Constitution! How can the Council not to support this idea? First of all, such courts are necessary for citizens. Everything we do is not for us, but for the citizens. We work not for ourselves, but for people: we protect their legal rights.
- You said that when there was a “ parade of sovereignties ”, it was wanted that the courts “ were privatized ”...
- Yes, it was like that. One of the achievements of the Council of Judges is that it managed to keep all the courts federal, included into a unified judicial system. After all, there were an idea to make the regional and district courts local. The Supreme Court and the Council of Judges defended the position that all the courts that existed at that time ( district, regional, and higher) — should have federal status.
“The Council is a representative body, we do not impose on anyone who should be its member”
- In 2010 a judicial reform was carried out in Ukraine, which changed the structure and powers of the Council of Judges of Ukraine. Now persons holding administrative positions cannot be members of the councils of judges. Many chairmen of the courts are the members of the Council of Judges of Russia. We know that the Chairman of the Supreme Commercial Court of the Russian Federation, Anton Ivanov, criticized the body that you head consists of a large number of court leaders. Tell me, is the membership of the court chairman in the Council of Judges a good or bad criterion? Do you think that the Ukrainian lawmakers did the right thing, when they removed from the councils of judges all who occupies administrative posts?
- I do not presume to judge whether Ukraine did the right thing or not. This is the case of Ukrainian colleagues, each person has its own logic. As it is said don’t go to a someone monastery with your charter, everyone has their own rules and regulations.
As for Russia, ordinary judges, chairmen, and their deputies are represented in our council. There are courts representatives of all types and levels. For 20 years, the proportion of chairmen has been increasing all the time. I associate it with the fact that the authority of the Council is growing and the chairmen of the courts aspire to get there.
The Council of Judges is not a conference, not a forum or place for discussion. This is a body endowed with real powers which influence policies within the judicial system. The chair of the court has more influence and opportunities to pursue this policy. Therefore, I do not think this is bad. But the most important thing for the Council is not that there are many chairmen in it, but the fact that is the backbone of the body of judicial self-government which consists of representatives of all the subjects of the Russian Federation. In each subject there are courts of general jurisdiction, commercial courts, in many subjects - statutory courts. They determine themselves the most authoritative, most respected that candidate to be sent to the Council. As a rule, the chairman of the regional court is elected. The Council is a representative body, we do not impose on anyone who should be its member. We do not define a quota: for example, in this republic a justice of the peace should be nominated , in another subject - the chairman of the regional court, –and a man or a woman in the third place. Such practice does not exist. The judges decide themselves who they nominate to the Council.
- Two years ago in Ukraine the procedure for selecting candidates to the position of judge was changed. And these changes made possible to choose the best of the best for Themis. Are you satisfied with the selection procedure of candidates and with the requirements that are imposed on them in Russia? What should be changed in this sphere ?
- Probably, there is no need to change anything in the selection procedure. It is developed quite scrupulously. All candidates for the position of judge pass through multistage filters.
What do I really want? To choose the best of the best to be judges. How should it be achieved? This is the task not only for the Council of Judges and for the supreme courts, it is the task of the state level. Apparently, the position of a judge is not so prestigious, and it does not allow us to recruit the best.
In Russia in order to become a judge you need not only to meet the age criterion, you need have a higher legal education, work experience, and have to pass an exam to a special examination commission, the majority of which are judges. Only two from ten candidates (who submitted applications) pass an exam ,. Imagine, 2 people remain after the first filter, , 8 are left overboard. It indicates a low level of education in the universities.
The next filter is the Qualification Board, which checks the level of training, moral qualities, and the biography of the candidates. In turn, the chairman of the court may disagree with the decision of the Qualification Board and return the documents. If he agreesthe documents go to the Chairman of the Supreme Court, and then to the Presidential Administration , the Federation Council. The procedure for selecting candidates for the post of judge is not bad itself. The problem is that we do not have a competition among enough qualified persons. If out of 100 people, wishing to become a judge, 10 or 20 people passed the exam, claiming the same job position, then we could choose. And now unfortunately our choice is limited.
- How do you think what does not suit lawyers in the profession of judge? Maybe salary level?
- Five years ago the salary level of judges was high compared to other state servants. Now it is on average. In general this profession is very dangerous anddifficult. The burden on judges is very large. We can’t get the government to adopt scientifically based load standards, although we have developed them for a long time. We understand why it has not yet been done: it will be necessary to increase funding Unfortunately the profession of a judge is not prestigious today. There is a lot of unfounded criticism addressed to the courts. All this is due to high-profile cases that are artificially inflated. Based on the fact that someone didn’t like how a case was solved, they throw mud at the whole system. Therefore, we often hear: courts are dependent, corrupt. Such allegations are sometimes heard from the very top. It does not strengthen courts authority . We are not able to cope with the problem of distrust to the courts. The statements "We are good, trust us" will not solve the problem. Decisions must be at the state level.
In general the courts consider 20 million cases. To take the courts of general jurisdiction only 5% of their decisions will be appealed, the magistrates - even less (not even 1%). In criminal cases only 15% of decisions are appealed. The rest of the convicts and their lawyers consider the courts decisions to be fair or at least acceptable and understand that there are no grounds to appeal against them.
- In principle such statistics say that most people consider the decisions of the courts to be fair and in compliance with the law.
- Yes. But experts say: the population does not trust the judges. Although statistics suggest otherwise. The number of appeals to the courts is constantly growing. In disputes with the authorities (cases of administrative legal relations) in 70% of cases citizens win, but even after that they continue to say that the court depends on the executive branch.
- The idea of electing judges by the people is being discussed in Ukraine today. What advice would you give Ukrainian colleagues: to develop this idea or forget about it once and for all? Is this topic being discussed in Russia?
- This issue was considered when laws on the status of judges, on the judicial system were prepared. Proposals to elect judges from time to time come from some deputies, politicians, political scientists, but not from serious groups who are able to carry out this idea. Personally, I think that the appointment of judges by presidential decree is a guarantee of the independence. And in order to pass the elections, the candidate must have either big money or allies among political parties, politicians, oligarchs or other influential people. In both cases, it is impossible to talk about the 100% independence of judges. After all, it is quite possible, when person willing to put on the mantle will be elected, they will say to him: “It is necessary to work out the funds invested in you”. If we want to have an independent judge he must be appointed by presidential decree. Moreover, the head of state can neither punish them nor deprive them of their posts. This can be done only by the Qualification Board, which consists for 2/3 of judges. I do not give advice to Ukraine, it must take a decision itself.
" Criminals should know: if they killed a judge, the entire state machine will be put on their feet"
- There are many “judicial” laws in Russia: on the status of judges, on the judicial system, on the financing of courts, on the bodies of the judicial community. There is only one in Ukraine - “On Judicial System and on the Status of Judges”. Do you think that a large number of laws regulating the activity of the judicial system is a guarantee of the proper functioning of Themis, of its independence?
- This situation has developed historically. It was necessary to adopt one or another law in the course of the development of the judicial system. Maybe it would be better to develop one. I have already told you the state of the judicial system before the adoption of the law on the status of judges. It had to be taken urgently, and if we began to think globally, to introduce rules on the judicial system, on the financing of courts, this process would take a long time and the whole judicial system would have collapsed. Life told us which laws to adopt. Maybe someday the judicial legislation will be codified, there will be a single act.
- What laws (or changes in the existing ones) need to be adopted in order for the courts and judges to feel protected?
- We have enough laws. The main thing is that they all shall be executed. But as for the changes, I will say the following. Several years ago, when so-called monetization of benefits was carried out, the article regulating the procedure for providing housing for judges was excluded from the law. Money is allocated, but there is no mechanism. How can a judge work without housing? And in Moscow or in large cities you cannot buy it even with a large salary because of it’s the high value. Today if a judge rents a house the court department pays these expenses. There are not enough laws on determining the burden on judges, on administrative courts.
- How many judges during the year are brought to disciplinary responsibility? What are the most often sins for which they are dismissed?
- During the year, from 40 to 100 judges are fired, 200 are brought to disciplinary action (they receive a warning). What for? Mainly it is bureaucratic delays, violation of terms (due to the judge's fault), gross procedural violations, when a judge commits actions that he simply does not have the right to commit: for example, accepts a case of the court of another jurisdiction.
- Are there many cases of bringing judges to criminal responsibility?
- No, these are isolated phenomena. There was once a case - a judge committed a murder.
- And for taking a bribe?
- There are such cases, but in 15 years there were 3-4, not more. Rumors that judges take bribes are exaggerated. Who distributes them? Lawyers, who often sin by taking money from the side, ostensibly to hand it over to a judge. In fact, they assign them to themselves, and then defame the judges. This is often the case.
- Are there many cases of attempts on judges? What is the situation with the protection of the courts? Is there a need to tighten responsibility for the threats against the servants of Themis? Is the proposal to provide them with bodyguards being discussed?
- There are threats. In this case, the judge is provided with state protection and security. He may even be resettled. All this is regulated by law. The problem is that law enforcement agencies do not pay enough attention to investigating both threats against judges and their killings.
Over the past 5 years, 12 judges were killed in Russia, if I'm not mistaken. Only 4 murders have been revealed, and these are “obvious” crimes (those committed on a domestic basis). The remaining murders related to the professional activities of the judges (we can say custom-made) are not revealed. There is the problem. I don’t know, probably, law enforcement agencies have no desire or have no enough strength to solve these crimes. Criminals should know: if they killed a judge, a policeman, the entire state machine will be put on their feet and everything will be done to solve the crime, and then those who want to threaten the judge will think a hundred times whether it is worth it. In this case, the judge will be really protected, because it is impossible to attach a guard to everyone. The state must protect the judge not only by adopting laws, but also by their real execution. Once we discussed the topic of protecting judges with our American colleagues. They said that they had a judge killed in one of the states. The state spent more money to investigate this crime than to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And the criminal has been found. Courts are guarded by bailiffs, they are armed. Video surveillance cameras are installed, there are metal detectors. Although it happens, knives are carried. Recently a judge was hurt during the process. The knife has been carried in an umbrella.
But if 10-15 years ago the courts were not protected, then today there is a guard in each of them.
“Criticism comes mainly not from journalists, but from the so-called expert community and lawyers”
- In December of this year, the All-Russian Congress of Judges will be held. What results are you waiting for?
- We hope that there will be a gift by the Congress - increase of the salary for the judges. The corresponding bill has been developing for 4 years already. At the Congress, we will summarize, look at what has been done, will define promising projects for the future. We will decide what needs to be done in order for the judicial system to be improved, developed, and become more accessible to people. We will re-elect members of bodies of the judicial community.
- The agenda of the Congress includes the adoption of a new Code of Judicial Ethics. Why judges need it? Are the norms of the current document outdated?
- Some members of the judicial community have decided that it was necessary to regulate in more detail: what the judge can do and what he should not, what should be avoided, what should he do in certain cases.
First we had the Code of Honor consists of 4 or 5 basic articles. Then a proposal to expand it was received and we have adopted the Code of Judicial Ethics.
- We know that in your youth you wanted to connect your life with journalism. How do you feel about media representatives who write about the activities of the judiciary? Does the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation cooperate with journalists?
- I have great respect for this profession. It is justified and deserved, because journalists of central publications who write on judicial and legal topics, are qualified, competent, have been dealing with these issues for several years, they do not need to chew anything, explain. They are always in the subject, understand all and support us.
At the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation there is a commission for interaction with the media. We hold joint events with the media, competitions for the best coverage of the topic. Criticism does not come mainly from journalists, but from the so-called expert community and lawyers.
- This year, you already meet Ukrainian colleagues for the second time: in February, our delegation visited Moscow, and in August you decided to visit the SSU. What are the results of these meetings?
- Of course, we exchanged experiences. We cannot approach this utilitarianly: so we met, and the next day, following the results of the meeting, each of the councils of judges drafted bills. We are enriched by experience that necessarily brings fruit. Expand horizons. We are very interested in such meetings, and we support the development of contacts.
- What discoveries have you made as a result of these meetings?
“We knew that Ukrainian judges are highly qualified, honest people committed to their profession. And the “discoveries”? .. I don’t know if it can be called a discovery: the atmosphere of benevolence exceeded all our expectations.
- Now you will come to Kiev more often?
- We hope so. And in Moscow we will meet our Ukrainian colleagues.
- Finally, this question: do you know the Ukrainian language?
- No, I know only a few words that I remember from my childhood. I was under 12 years old and sent to grandma in Ukraine in the summer. When I returned to Leningrad, I then used Ukrainian words for 2-3 months. " Troshki rozumіyu ", but do not speak.
- Nothing, you will come more often, we will learn the Ukrainian language.
- Yes, thank you (smiles) .
- Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.
Ukraine, Low and Business
34 (1073) August, 18-28 2012