Vienna, August 4 – Legal norms do not define how Russian courts act, according to a three-year study conducted by Moscow’s INDEM Foundation. Instead, the functioning of the courts depends on prosecutors and investigators who will bring pressure to bear on judges in order to ensure that the latter render “correct” verdicts.
Because that is so, Georgy Satarov, INDEM’s president, says improving laws by itself will not solve the problems of the country’s courts. Indeed, he described the widespread “faith in the force of correct laws adopted in a timely fashion” as an example of “juridical fetishism” (www.specletter.com/independence-judgement/2010-08-03/po-zakonam-bezzakonja-.html).
“The functioning [of the Russian judicial system],” he says, “depends on the organs of the prosecution and investigation bodies, the effectiveness of which is rating according to the number of guilty sentences” they are able to secure from the courts. And consequently, people in these institutions will do whatever it takes to secure such sentences.
Tragically, among the arsenal of means to that end these institutions have is the ability to bring charges of corruption against judges. “In order to avoid” such charges, Satarov continues, “the judges most often submit to this pressure,” whatever the law says and whatever the facts of the cases are.
The views of many Russian officials, including President Dmitry Medvedev notwithstanding, Satarov says, the INDEM study shows that “the basic obstacles to the normal functioning of the judicial system are not laws but informal matters” including “informal norms, informal relations, our history, the influence of other institutions, our conscience, and so on.”
Consequently, he continues, efforts to improve the judiciary by laws alone won’t work. Instead, a comprehensive approach is necessary, one that recognizes both the role of formal laws and that of informal relationships and addresses both. Any other course of action will leave the existing system little changed.
And judicial shortcomings are precisely a systemic problem. Those who are illegally putting pressure on the judges to render this or that verdict are themselves under pressure to get convictions, because they know that the conviction rate is how those above them “rate their effectiveness.”
To improve the situation, all these things must be addressed. They work as a system, and there are a lot of them. It is foolish to think, therefore, that coming up with good laws will be sufficient. Obviously, good laws are better than bad ones, but “unfortunately, the adoption of correct norms will not change life itself,” at least not without some help.