Why justice is “stuck” in Russia
The other day, life-sentenced killer Sergei Piskunov sent a letter to the editorial office, in which he told how he twice … threw a bar of soap at the judge. He did this allegedly in protest against the entire judicial system, and specifically against the fact that it is inattentive to ordinary people. For this his crime against justice, he will be held accountable.
Accusations against the servants of Themis have been heard for a long time, and recently they have become more frequent. A judge today is forced to handle so many cases at the same time that it goes beyond human capabilities. And the quality suffers from this. The people in robes themselves are afraid to talk about it, so as not to lose the chair in case of something. Talking about the everyday life of judges requires not only courage, but also awareness – it is no longer possible to be silent.
How the “arbiter of destinies” lives today and in what conditions he has to knock with a hammer – one judge told the MK observer on condition of anonymity. The region in which she works does not really matter, because these problems are typical for all Russian servants of Themis.
Back in 2010, 40-year-old Sergei Piskunov received a life sentence for robbery and murder of taxi drivers. His name has recently become a household name in the judicial community: for the first time in a long time, the servants of Themis returned to talking about their protection. Piskunov had the audacity to attack the judges three times. Whatever his motives, the fact itself is overwhelming. This is what he wrote in his letter to the editor. We cite its text with abbreviations – not in order to give the floor to the criminal, but in order to show how vulnerable the judges are (the spelling and punctuation of the author are preserved): “Trying to draw attention of the authorities to my problem (we are talking about the appointment of a forensic medical examination for the presence or absence of a disease. – Ed.), I began to commit minor crimes, in the course of their proceedings I informed the judges about the situation … On June 26, 2020, he brought with him two pieces of laundry soap (100 grams each), which he threw at him, but did not hit. I also expressed rude, offensive words to Judge Iskhakov … On July 3, 2020, I again brought two pieces of laundry soap with me to the trial, the first bar hit the judge’s forehead. The second did not throw … On March 15, 2021, the lawyer organized the delivery of two pieces of laundry soap to the court, which I threw at Tyutin. “
In any lawsuit, as you know, at least one participant will be dissatisfied with the decision. And where are the guarantees that he will behave appropriately? Last year, a resident of the Chelyabinsk region, who was accused under Article 119 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Threat of Murder”, was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for stabbing the judge in the back with a knife and a hammer on the head. He just didn’t like the way she handled his criminal case.
Recently, threats against judges in connection with the administration of justice by them have become more frequent. Here are the statistics: in 2018 there were 33 of them, in 2019 – 38, and in 2021 – already 67. The life of the servants of Themis is not often attempted, but still … Last year there were three such incidents (thank God, all the judges survived). To date, more than 80 judges have been taken under state protection.
– Do you know that most of the prohibited items were brought into the courthouse until frames became mandatory at the entrance? – asks me an employee of the highest court. – Ax! It’s not a joke. Now you can’t get through with an ax, but steel with soap …
Yaroslavna’s lament for justice
Before me is a judge of one of the district courts:
“This is a cry from my heart and many judges who cannot talk about it outside the judicial community, and even there they do it with the fear that they will report,” she begins. “The purpose of these revelations is to draw attention. I hope that many problems will be resolved in the future.
– People often ask themselves the question: why do the courts make unfair, in their opinion, decisions?
– Many talk about the lack of adversarial nature of the process in criminal proceedings, including the accusatory bias, someone – about the conciliatory position of the court in relation to the bodies of the preliminary investigation. I agree with each of these positions.
For myself, I singled out four reasons for low justice: a complicated procedure for appointing a judge, lack of appropriate material support, low professional level and enormous workload.
Everyone knows that most of the judiciary is former employees of the court apparatus. Good or bad, you can argue for a long time. At first glance, no one better than the assistant judge and the secretary of the court session knows the procedural law governing court proceedings and office work; only in court can you face a variety of civil disputes and criminal cases in which you directly help the judge to understand. Meanwhile, of course, the position of a judge should be the final stop in the professional development of a lawyer who has experience of working as a lawyer, legal adviser, investigator, in the prosecutor’s office and, of course, in the court.
I will not go deep into the legal provisions on the appointment to the post. In general, the procedure for appointing magistrates and federal judges is the same: successfully passing the qualification exam, receiving a recommendation from the Qualification Collegium of Judges. Only justices of the peace are appointed by the legislative body of state power of a constituent entity of the Russian Federation, and federal judges are appointed by the President of the Russian Federation. As for the requirements for candidates, they are the same, with the exception of the age limit and length of service, which federal judges should have more.
Now answer the question: after many years of work in the court apparatus, where they pay pennies, passing the most difficult qualification exam for the position of a judge, going through long document checks, as well as going through the procedure for obtaining a positive opinion from the Qualification Collegium of Judges, will a judge value his work? Of course. Please note that it will be the job (not the position, not the high status of the judge) that will value, which gives the opportunity for stable earnings, albeit low, taking into account the workload and responsibility that are assigned to the judge. Yes Yes! Contrary to the opinions of many lawyers, the material support of a judge provided for by law and the extent to which it is realized are different things. It is even a shame to admit that, when considering claims for the recovery of legal costs, the sums of which exceed your monthly earnings several times, you involuntarily begin to feel sorry for yourself. I will not say that we get a penny, but this salary does not correspond to the colossal burden that falls on the shoulders of the judge.
In addition, there is the notorious “housing issue”. There is an unspoken rule: judges sometimes cannot apply for a position in a higher authority until they have their own housing.
– Aren’t judges entitled to free housing?
– It is believed that the question is in implementation. Judges live in rented apartments for years, and as a result, take out mortgages to increase their chances of promotion, and become hostages of circumstances. The desire to have a better position outweighs the desire, even with less “housing” benefit for oneself.
– Why doesn’t the judge leave if everything is so bad?
– Judges are specialists of a narrow profile, especially forensic judges. Apart from criminal law and process, they know nothing. In this case, they have one way – to become lawyers. But this is not suitable for everyone, lawyers have their own specifics of work. Most forensic judges are well aware of this, and therefore make such decisions in order to first of all protect themselves, avoiding retraining, as well as acquittals. Many judges, considering cases at first instance, have a hateful phrase by me – “older comrades will judge”. It is assumed that the higher authority will sort it out, change or cancel the decision. In this way, my colleagues shift the responsibility to others. In the meantime, it may turn out that the phrase “older comrades will judge” is also a favorite phrase of a higher-ranking judge. Then decisions appear, which are written about in the media. Unfortunately, not everyone reaches the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
– Are you often asked to make “specific” decisions?
– At the moment when the judge writes the operative part in the deliberation room, no one is standing behind him. A judge who is afraid of losing his job (for the above reasons) himself knows what decision he must make, what kind of decision is expected of him.
Let me give you an example: an acquaintance judge made a decision to choose a preventive measure in a high-profile case. Nobody asked her, but she censored herself, realizing that the case was being conducted by a serious body, and sent the person to a pre-trial detention center. And then public opinion came to his defense, the appellate instance overturned the decision. She eventually retired.
– Isn’t this an excellent example of the fact that a judge should not listen to what the investigating authorities want from him, but should take the courage to administer justice himself? Tell me, did they bring you solutions on flash drives?
– You probably mean the scandals with the so-called “flash sentences”, when the text of the indictment is simply copied, including those with spelling and stylistic errors. It must be understood that there is nothing wrong with the fact that the investigator provides the text of the prosecution story in electronic form. However, the translation of this text in its original form into the verdict is unacceptable, since the prescribing part of the verdict must contain what was established in the court session.
– Formally, there is no power vertical in the courts, but how in reality?
– In some courts, chairpersons put a ban on certain actions of judges, for example, the termination of administrative cases, because they have such a position (they say, the administrative body could not just draw up a protocol). Sometimes it seems to me that everything is being done so that the judges of the first instance stop thinking about the law and the application of the law.
Imagine a situation: changes have been made to some law, and some judges are waiting for what the higher authority will say, what it will indicate how to be. They are afraid to independently analyze and apply new norms.
– How many cases do you have to deal with at the same time?
– Dozens. Sometimes it’s difficult to just keep the story line in your head, and in fact there are a hundred or two hundred volumes in cases. Even everything is difficult to read. And the witnesses? Sometimes there are 120 of them. Everyone needs to be questioned and listened to.
Approximate statistics are as follows: the magistrate considers 3000-6000 cases a year, the federal one – 150-1000. These are crazy numbers. You cannot refuse. Many cases are “junk”. It’s great that we have such an accessible justice that, by paying a small state fee, anyone can file a lawsuit. But the courts end up drowning in insignificant cases. There are many cases when citizens “train”: for example, on expired products. According to the law on the protection of consumer rights, they go to court to recover money for a product, a fine and moral damage. One can talk endlessly about the “litigants”. I have a citizen on my territory who is simultaneously suing in four Moscow courts over an incorrectly installed ramp.
– Are the cases investigated by the preliminary investigation bodies of sufficient quality?
– No, those cases that are being investigated “on the ground” by the police and regional departments of the RF IC are of a very low level. This is primarily due to the lack of qualified employees. Although where can qualified investigators and interrogators come from if there are no worthy teachers?
In addition, the low level of investigation is facilitated by the courts, which are limited by the low-quality evidence base provided by the investigating authorities, and somewhere they even smooth out rough edges in cases. Investigation of a case “on the ground” resembles a conveyor belt, and it does not spare anyone, but we must give a chance not to dirty their biography to those who really stumbled by accident, but such are immediately visible. These are mainly cases of small gravity. It is even economically unprofitable to investigate such cases. Think about how much each criminal investigation costs the state. Sometimes in a private conversation, the investigators themselves say: “I feel sorry for the person.”
Do you know that sometimes a person does not even know that he is committing a crime? Yes, you heard right! Basically, this situation arises in cases that have a formal corpus delicti, for example, under Art. 322.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Fictitious registration of a citizen of the Russian Federation at the place of stay or at the place of residence in a dwelling in the Russian Federation and fictitious registration of a foreign citizen or stateless person at the place of residence in a dwelling in the Russian Federation”), 322.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Fictitious setting on registration of a foreign citizen or stateless person at the place of stay in the Russian Federation “). And the reason for such crimes is the lack of preventive measures. What was the cost of placing information about this in the post office, in institutions? And people would know that they can be attracted.
I do not undertake to assess the reasons for the lack of preventive measures, I can only assume that this is due to the desire of law enforcement officers to show how actively they are fighting crime on the ground. And I recall the words of Mark Twain that there are three types of lies: lies, blatant lies and statistics.
The judges have many problems, no one denies them. But should the quality of justice suffer from this? Of course not. The judges would like them to have the right not to consider many cases at the same time, so that the investigators transfer them high-quality cases and do not have to carry these cases on carts (a colleague recently took a picture of a Moscow City Court judge who was rolling a shopping cart with heavy volumes to the next trial). But they themselves are afraid to talk about it out loud, in the hope that the participants in the process will notice and tell. They will notice, but instead of understanding, they can just throw a bar of soap …
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