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Russia: Reform of the Constitutional Court Proposed

(Oct. 14, 2010) On October 7, 2010, the State Duma (the lower house of the legislature) of the Russian Federation considered and approved on the first reading a bill aimed at reforming the Russian constitutional justice system. The bill was introduced by the administration of the Russian Federation President and aims at amending the Federal Constitutional Law on the Constitutional Court of Russia. (Information on bills in the State Duma of the Russia Federation [in Russian], State Duma official website, (last visited Oct. 12, 2010).)

It appears that most of the proposed amendments relate to the procedures associated with the appointment of the Chief Justice. Previously, the Chief Justice was selected by the members of the court from amongst themselves. This procedure was changed in May 2009, when the President of the Russian Federation was given the right to appoint the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, to be confirmed by the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian legislature. (Rossiiskaia Gazeta (official publication) (May 31, 2009).) However, the dismissal of the Chief Justice can still be initiated by a group of at least five justices and becomes effective if two-thirds of the Constitutional Court members vote for it. The new bill makes the dismissal procedure consistent with the appointment and transfers this right to the President of Russia, who must seek senatorial approval to fire the Chief Justice. Also, the proposed amendment allows the appointment of a Chief Justice for a life-long tenure and eliminates the age restrictions on the position. This amendment will not apply to the other 18 justices, who are required to retire at the age of 70. (Marina Ozerova, Femidu Odenut v Novoe [Femida Will Get a New Dress] [in Russian], Moskovskii Komsomolets (Sept. 27, 2010),

In order to increase the efficiency of court procedures, under the new law, the justices will be allowed to rule without conducting hearings on cases that argue the constitutionality of provisions of those acts whose other clauses were recognized as unconstitutional earlier. Also, petitions will not be accepted from individuals whose cases have not yet been resolved by courts of general jurisdiction, and the laws that are the subjects of consideration in such cases will not be interpreted by the Constitutional Court. In the meantime, lower court judges will be allowed to request the Constitutional Court's opinion in regard to the laws they intend to apply in their rulings. (Id.) The bill also addresses problem of implementation of the court rulings. It states that the decisions of the Constitutional Court must be observed by law enforcement authorities as soon as they enter into legal force. (Id.)

According to the Russian Constitution (art. 108.2), a Federal Constitutional Law must be approved by at least three-quarters of the Federation Council members and two-thirds of the State Duma deputies before it is adopted.