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Overview of the Judicial System of the Russian Federation
Justice is administered in the Russian Federation only by the courts. The judicial power is autonomous and acts independently from the legislative and executive powers. Justice is administered in the forms of constitutional, civil, administrative and criminal proceedings.
The judicial system of the Russian Federation is established by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Federal Constitutional Law “On the Judicial System of the Russian Federation” of 31 December 1996.
In February 2014, in order to strengthen public trust in the judiciary and ensure a unified approach to the resolution of disputes between legal as well as private persons, a Law on the amendment to the Constitution of the Russian Federation “On the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the State Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation” was adopted. As a result, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, heading the system of courts of general jurisdiction, was merged with the Supreme Commercial Court of the Russian Federation, heading the system of commercial courts, to form a new Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which is now the highest judicial body for civil, administrative, criminal cases, cases on resolution of economic disputes and other cases.
Currently, Russia’s judicial system is composed of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, federal courts, and also constitutional (charter) courts and justices of the peace of constituent entities of the Russian Federation.
Judges of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation are appointed by the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (upper house of parliament) on proposal of the President of the Russian Federation. Judges of federal courts are appointed by the President of the Russian Federation. Judges of constitutional (charter) courts and justices of the peace of constituent entities of the Russian Federation are appointed in accordance with the legislation of the respective constituent entities.
The main task of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is to resolve cases regarding the constitutionality of normative legal acts of all levels. Constitutional (charter) courts have been created in a number of constituent entities of the Russian Federation (republics, territories, regions, federal cities, etc.) to check the adherence of normative legal acts of those constituent entities to their own constitutions (charters). Pursuant to a law adopted in December of 2020, constitutional courts of constituent entities will be replaced by advisory bodies under regional parliaments by January 2023.
The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation heads the system of courts of general jurisdiction and the system of commercial courts. As the top judicial body, the Supreme Court is the only court competent to consider cases as a court of first instance, court of appeal, court of cassation and as a supervisory instance. The Supreme Court exercises control over the activities of lower courts and provides them with clarifications on issues of judicial practice in order to ensure uniform application of legislation throughout the country.
Justices of the peace administer justice on the local level and have limited jurisdiction. In particular, they consider property disputes with an amount of claims under 50 000 RUB and criminal cases in which the maximum possible punishment does not exceed 3 years of imprisonment. Appeals against decisions of justices of the peace are considered by district courts.
District courts are the basic element of the system of courts of general jurisdiction. They handle most civil, criminal and administrative cases.
Courts of constituent entities of the Russian Federation primarily function as an appellate instance vis-à-vis the district courts. They also have a limited original jurisdiction – in particular, criminal cases concerning the gravest crimes (e.g. terrorism) and all other cases involving the state secret.
Previously, when a court of a constituent entity considered a case in first instance, the appeal against its decision would be heard by its own presidium – a panel of senior judges serving on it either ex officio or by appointment.
A major judicial reform was launched in 2018, resulting in creation of separate general jurisdiction courts of appeal and cassation. Courts of appeal now hear appeals (both on points of fact and points of law) against decisions adopted in first instance by the courts of constituent entities. A court of appeal is never located in the same region as the court subordinate to it. Courts of cassation hear cassation appeals (appeals on points of law only) against the appellate decisions of district courts and courts of constituent entities.
In criminal cases regarding a number of crimes, the accused person may request a jury trial. The case is heard by a judge and six jurors when considered in a district court and by a judge and eight jurors when considered in a court of a constituent entity.
There are specialized military courts within the system of courts of general jurisdiction: at the level of garrisons and at the level of military circuits (fleets). They primarily consider civil and administrative cases in which the rights of the military personnel are violated, as well as cases on crimes committed by the military personnel. An Appellate Military Court and a Military Court of Cassation were created during the abovementioned reform.
Commercial courts administer justice in the sphere of entrepreneurial and other economic activities. The system of commercial courts is composed of three elements: commercial courts of constituent entities of the Russian Federation (first instance), appellate commercial courts (appellate instance) and commercial courts of circuits (courts of cassation).
There is a specialized court – the Intellectual Property Rights Court – within the system of commercial courts.
Judicial System of the Russian Federation
Supreme Court of the Russian Federation
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