President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Zorkin, we regularly meet with the Constitutional Court judges on the eve of December 12 – Constitution Day. However, unfortunately, during the pandemic such large meetings are rare. Nonetheless, I would like to ask you to send my best wishes to the members of the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court members are working hard, I know. You will be able to tell us about your activity during the past year. I would like to wish everyone all the best and especially good health – this is now most important and much needed – and I express my hope that we will continue our constructive work in the future because to some extent our functions – of the Constitutional Court and the President – coincide in some ways.
I am hoping for your support in the future in the realisation of the rights of citizens as part of your serious constitutional process – the observance, or, to be more precise, the interpretation of the norms of the Fundamental Law, which is being carried out by the Constitutional Court.
This is particularly relevant today in view of the recently passed amendments to the Constitution. Why? Because when it comes to, say, some areas of our activities, a need arises to clarify the new provisions, the amendments to the Constitution for the citizens and legal entities, to show the people – both civil society and our economic actors – what new opportunities and rights the citizens get following the amendments. This are overall major, massive efforts.
I want to finish with what I started. I congratulate you and all members of the Constitutional Court on this holiday – Constitution Day of the Russian Federation.
Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation Valery Zorkin: Thank you, Mr President.
Let me also congratulate you in return because you are the guarantor of the Constitution while we are its custodians.
But first I would like to relate to you the warmest address from the judges. We wrote it in our traditional report that we present to you every year, and all the judges have signed it. But you understand that this is last year’s report because the current year is not over yet and the report has not been released yet. The judges wished you, as they say in Russia, many a good year.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Valery Zorkin: Regarding our work, Mr President, we must all live, and are living, under the Constitution but this particularly refers to the Constitutional Court because, as you said, we interpret it, we directly apply it. Regarding the amendments, we are working on it “off the reel” because we have… I was just “tortured” by some TV channels with an improvised question: are we applying the amendments? Of course, we are. Moreover, in our rulings this year after July 4, we are referring directly to the new amendments.
We proceed from the fact that they have significantly upgraded the Constitution, within its fundamental principles; naturally, the principles have not changed, but they were specified. In this respect there has been nothing more fundamental in 30 years than this comprehensive overhaul which primarily involved areas of constitutional guarantees for citizens’ rights, social rights, the structure of power, and they added a greater balance of power.
Others sometimes say, “Look, they have a presidential republic there.” A presidential republic – so what? Of course, it is a presidential republic. But previously under our Constitution the President formed the government himself, so to say, and only the Prime Minister was approved by the State Duma that gave its consent. Now when the ministers are also approved by the State Duma, I think it is strange to say that things have become worse. Apparently, everything will depend on how things run at a practical level.
I hope that the Constitutional Court’s modest efforts – I am not depreciating myself, I truly believe that our efforts are modest – will facilitate this in every way because we do check the laws. We are checking the laws for the benefit of our citizens because we review the complaints people have regarding the violation of their rights based on the law applied. In this sense, we are the Constitutional Court on human rights.
But, naturally, our activities are not limited to this because we have many powers, especially as regards the amendments. After all, as you know, the authority of the Constitutional Court has been substantially expanded and this imposes a high responsibility on us. However, we believe we will fulfil it despite the optimisation of the court’s personnel number. But I think this decision was based on practice and I hope we will be fine.
There was a lot published when the Constitution was being adopted. Even today people ask: “How do you get to the Constitutional Court if you have to go through all the courts of instance before that?” But this suggests the question: “How could it be otherwise? Should the Constitutional Court come before a district court?”
Incidentally, in practice we proceeded from the premise that people must receive protection in other courts that have the right to analyse actual circumstances and evidence and make a law-based ruling. So, in this respect, our practice was ahead of the current record of the Constitutional Court’s adjusted authority.
I would like to say just a few words about statistics but not make it tiresome for you. Now that it is required that all other opportunities in the courts of general jurisdiction are exhausted – these are primarily the courts of appeal and the court of cassation – by and large the number of complaints has gone down a bit.
But why has it gone down? In most cases, these complaints have nothing to do with us at all. A person says: “I was given the wrong flat. Please help me get the right one in the district court.”
But there are also complaints that are within our responsibility because people complain about the application of a law in a specific case. But the share of these complains has practically remained unchanged. I say “practically” although there has been some reduction but not to the extent that as feared because of the many requirements that a citizen must fulfil before applying to the Constitutional Court. In the past we made about 3,000–3,200 rulings on important issues. I do not want to bore you with the details but this year the number remained at about 3,000.
As to rulings, this year there will be more of them compared to last year.
Vladimir Putin: Why?
Valery Zorkin: It just turned out that way. This was not a specific goal.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Zorkin, I would like to draw your attention to the following. You know that the State Duma and the Federation Council are now passing new laws in furtherance of the new provisions of the Constitution. It is crucial that these federal laws passed by the Federal Assembly precisely resonate with the letter and the spirit of the amendments to the Constitution
Valery Zorkin: Yes, it is crucial, otherwise the “pyramid” will be incoherent. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court does not have absolute influence here, Mr President. We only respond when there is a request from respective state bodies or from citizens. But I think such complaints will arise anyway because not everyone will be happy about the practical result.
I think there is no use arguing about the amendments themselves since they have become part of the Constitution. But when they are translated into laws, disagreements are bound to arise when the laws in effect will seem misinterpreted to a litigant. Then, here is the Constitutional Court, please come to us, and we will offer the proper interpretation.
Vladimir Putin: Ok.