The winding path of judicial reform in modern Russia

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Author: Peter H. Solomon, Jr.

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2023-1-95-112

Keywords: judicial reform; efficiency of the judiciary; judicial independence; judicial power; simplified (abbreviated process) procedure; plea bargaining; judicial governance; 2020 constitutional amendments in Russia; future of courts in Russia


This article provides a detailed overview of the process of judicial reform in the Russian Federation, with emphasis on the past fifteen years. It argues that the political context plays a decisive role in which reforms get adopted and implemented. After reviewing struggles in the late Yeltsin and early Putin years to find a balance between the independence and accountability of judges, it charts the zig-zag pattern of reform and counter-reform that prevailed since 2005 and remained notably unchanged throughout the arguably liberal Medvedev presidency. In the realm of judicial governance this included the increasing role of the Presidential Commission on Judicial Nominations in selection and promotion of candidates for judgeships, the elimination of the High Arbitrazh Court, and the gradual subordination of the Constitutional Court to its political masters – all signs of a judicial counter-reform that reflected growing authoritarianism in the political realm. At the same time, a series of measures, often initiatives of Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev, were undertaken to improve the efficiency of the courts. These included the expansion of judicial capacity (with the creation of the new justices of the peace); several simplifications of civil, arbitrazh, and criminal procedure (through the use of judicial orders, summary procedure, court fines, and the guilty plea procedure); the remaking of the system of appeals; and the replacement of some crimes with administrative offenses. A significant portion of the article also focuses on what consequences the reforms (especially ones relating to the jurisdiction of the courts) had on the number of jury trials, which in Russia result in a high rate of acquittals. The article concludes with a snapshot of the courts in early 2020, of the ideas for further reform that were in the air (especially those offered by the Kudrin team), and of the impact on the courts of the Constitutional Amendments of 2020 and of the special military operation in Ukraine, as well as with thoughts on the changing reality of the dialogue between Russian scholars and their colleagues abroad and on how the above-mentioned events may affect the prospects for future judicial reform.

About the author: Peter H. Solomon, Jr. – Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Law and Criminology at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

Citation: Solomon P.H., Jr. (2023) Izvilistyy put’ sudebnoy reformy v sovremennoy Rossii [The winding path of judicial reform in modern Russia]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 95–110. (In Russian).


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