If it’s not broken, break it

Putin wants the Russian constitution changed to merge courts of general jurisdiction and arbitration courts. The latter, a separate branch of the judiciary, try commercial disputes between corporations. From what I’ve read in the Russian press, arbitration courts have much improved lately and are light years ahead of the other courts in terms of independence, sophistication and general decency.

While president, Dmitry Medvedev didn’t achieve much good, but he appointed his law school buddy Anton Ivanov to lead the Supreme arbitration court and that turned out to be a great idea. I hear that Ivanov deserves much credit for cleaning up the lower-level courts’ act. But with the proposed merger, it seems that he will have to quit, or at least take a back seat to the chairman of the Supreme court.

But the Supreme court – second only to the Constitutional court – is chaired by a soviet holdover called Vyacheslav Lebedev. The man was appointed to his job back in 1989 when the supreme court of the Russian Federation (still styled “Russian Soviet Socialist Federal Republic”) when the post was not nearly as important as it is now – Russia’s top court reported to the supreme court of the whole USSR then. But when the Soviet Union disappeared late in 1991, Lebedev found himself the top judge of the land. He has since rubber-stamped pretty much every wrongful conviction that Russia’s executive asked him to rubber-stamp. No wonder Russian criminal courts are not exactly known for their fairness and professionalism.

It would be logical to retire this guy and have Ivanov lead the extended court, but it’s going to be the other way round, I’m afraid.

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