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Russia’s constitutional reform proposal would remove the word ‘independent’ from a current federal law’s description of the Constitutional Court

Source: Meduza
Pyotr Kovalyov / TASS / Vida Press

The Russian Constitution currently does not define the role of the Constitutional Court, Russia’s highest judicial body when it comes to interpreting the foundational law of the land. The Constitutional Court is only described in Article One of the federal law entitled “On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation”:

“The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is a judiciary body for constitutional stewardship that self-sufficiently and independently executes judicial decisions via constitutional legal proceedings.”

That definition was used as the basis for one provision in the series of constitutional reforms President Vladimir Putin introduced into the State Duma. If that bill passes, Article 125, Part One of the Russian Constitution will read as follows:

“The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is the highest judiciary body for constitutional stewardship in the Russian Federation, and it executes judicial decisions via constitutional legal proceedings with the aim of defending the foundations of the constitutional order, fundamental human rights and freedoms [sic], providing for the supremacy and direct application of the Constitution of the Russian Federation throughout the territory of the Russian Federation. The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is composed of 11 judges, including the Chief Judge of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and their deputy.”

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is composed of 19 judges.

A quick comparison between the clauses defining the Constitutional Court in current federal law and the newly proposed constitutional amendments shows that the words “self-sufficiently and independently” (“самостоятельно и независимо”) have been removed even as the court’s status as Russia’s highest arbitrator of constitutional law has been highlighted.

On one hand, the Constitution will still include two provisions (in Articles 10 and 120) that establish the independence of the judiciary. This means the exclusion of the Constitutional Court’s independence from this clause can only be symbolic. On the other hand, the proposed constitutional amendments add some bite to their bark: They would allow the president to request that Constitutional Court judges be fired regardless of their colleagues’ opinions on the matter. In practice, the Court’s judges really will be a bit less independent from the president if these constitutional amendments pass.

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Analysis by Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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