(Dec. 15, 2008) On December 2, 2008, the Congress of Russian Trial Judges held its session in Moscow. This is the highest authority in the judicial professional community, and it meets irregularly, mostly upon the request of the Russian Federation President, who participates in the Congress. The Congress has the right to propose legislation and change the existing judicial practice. Following a request from the Russian Federation President, the Congress proposed the new Transparency of Courts Law and amendments to the Federal Constitutional Law on the Judiciary of the Russian Federation.
Both documents aim at increasing requirements for those who are nominated for judicial positions. It is proposed that personal traits, as well as ethical and moral values, of the candidates for such positions be considered. Polygraph tests would become a part of the obligatory testing procedure, and all candidates would have to graduate from a specially designed preparatory training program. The requirement of continuing legal education is also proposed for judges already in place. The existing procedure for re-appointment of judges may be eliminated in the future; in its stead, new disciplinary courts for judges would be introduced. This would also mean that there would be lifetime judicial appointments. Delays in hearing cases will be considered a reason sufficient to remove a judge from the bench. Following the intervention of the Russian Constitutional Court, a provision to recruit judges only from among the current staffers of the judicial institutions was removed from the proposal.
Substantial changes are planned in defining the jurisdiction of the courts. It is proposed that corporate disputes and issues of antitrust, customs, tax legislation, and bankruptcy will be resolved by the courts of arbitration instead of general courts, as is the case today. Amendments to the nation's Criminal Code were also proposed. They provide for the elimination of federal sentencing guidelines. If adopted by the legislature, they will give judges more flexibility in application of the law.
Additional proposals are aimed at the development of electronic technologies that are intended to make judicial procedures more transparent. After being approved by the Federal Assembly (the country's legislature), the new Law on the Judiciary will provide for online hearings in Russian commercial courts, submission of claims electronically, and witness testimonies through video conferencing. In addition, video and audio recording of trials will become a mandatory element of judicial procedure. At present, about 260 Russian courts have individual websites and provide information on selected rulings. In 2007, about 18 million cases were resolved by the Russian trial courts. (Vladimir Sumskoi, Sudit Pozhiznenno [Judges for Life],GAZETA.RU, Dec. 2, 2008, available at http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2008/12/02_a_2902054.shtml.)