Constitution-transforming informal methods of changing the Constitution of the Russian Federation: between validity and constitutionality

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Author: Dmitry Shustrov

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2021-5-42-75

Keywords: constitutional change; constitutional transformation; constitutionality; customs; informal methods of constitutional change; judicial decisions; laws; validity


The Constitution of the Russian Federation has been changed according to formalities and the rules established by it, although there are numerous examples of constitutional changes having been made outside of formal procedures. In the theory and practice of constitutional law, an approach has been developed according to which the constitution can be changed without formally changing its text — by changing its meaning. Such changes are called constitutional transformation and are carried out by informal methods of changing the constitution. They differ significantly from the formal methods of constitutional reform, since they are carried out not by the sovereign source of power but by the constituted power – by the legislative, executive, and judicial authorities. The article examines the main informal methods of changing the constitution: law, interpretation, convention. Constitutional transformation by informal methods of constitutional change is not provided for by the constitution, therefore it is unconstitutional. However, it becomes valid thanks to implementation by institutions established by the constitution, within the framework of constitutionally provided procedures and recognized as methods of constitutional change by other subjects of constitutional relations. If the subjects of constitutional relations are not in agreement with a constitutional transformation, they can overcome it through constitutional reform or (depending on the method) through an appeal to the constitutional court by which, if successful, an informal constitutional change becomes unconstitutional and invalid. Turning to informal methods, the government incurs costs in terms of the legality and legitimacy of the constitutional change, but at the same time it gains in terms of efficiency, time saving and the result obtained. The emergence of a “living”, “parallel” constitution, the lag of the formal constitution behind real life, the inadequacy of the constitutional text are the price paid for resorting to informal methods of constitutional change. It is important that resort to informal means does not become the norm. Constitutional transformation should be supplementary in nature, and appeal to it should be the last resort.

About the author: Dmitry Shustrov – Doctor of Sciences in Law, Associate Professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Shustrov D. (2021) Preobrazuyushchie Konstitutsiyu Rossiyskoy Federatsii neformal'nye sposoby eyo izmeneniya: mezhdu deystvitel'nost'yu i konstitutsionnost'yu [Constitution-transforming informal methods of changing the Constitution of the Russian Federation: between validity and constitutionality]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 42–75. (In Russian).


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