Russian Constitutional Court: who is to say what the law is?

Today’s article in Kommersant ( reports that the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is not happy with the lower courts’ failure to comply with its rulings. The author Anna Pushkarskaya writes that the argument among the courts escalated into an open conflict and could eventually change the balance of power and authority in the Russian judicial system.

In 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled on the provisions of the 2001 Act that regulated compensations to the individuals affected by the Chernobyl disaster. However, in a more recent similar case, the High Court failed to take the earlier Constitutional Court’s ruling into consideration. In essence, the High Court’s approach was that every individual disputing the constitutionality of the provisions of the 2001 Act has to initiate a separate proceeding in front of the Constitutional Court, regardless of the fact that it had already ruled on the issue in an earlier case. The Constitutional Court responded by reminding the lower courts that its rulings carry a legislative power that cannot be ignored or disputed by other courts.

This is not the first case in which the Russian courts failed to comply with the rulings of the Constitutional Court, and some lawyers expressed frustration with the High Court and the High Appellate Court for their interpretation of the constitution. The President of the Constitutional Court Valeriy Zorkin seems to feel the same way, as he recently stated that “there has to be an instance in the national judicial system that has the final say” and that “no one in Russia has the right to interpret a certain legal provision contrary to the interpretation of the Constitutional Court”. The real question, of course, is how far is the Constitutional Court willing to go in order to make it clear that its rulings have to be treated as legislative acts in all applicable cases. Some experts commented that the Constitutional Court wants to expand its competencies to include the oversight of lower courts’ rulings. If that is the case, it will become clear by December, when the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin is scheduled to address the All-Russian Congress of Judges.


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