European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and its impact on Russian legal framework

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yuri Filippov) - The impact of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms on the Russian legal system has been steadily increasing.

Of special importance here are verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Human rights court decisions are compulsory for all European Convention on Human Rights signatories, Russia being no exception. This also applies to ECHR precedents, whose influence on the Russian legal practice is even more marked. As the European Court considers cases, it practically never omits analyses of national legislation features and law enforcement practice. That is why the importance of ECHR decisions for streamlining national legal systems cannot be overestimated.

ECHR decisions are, in fact, among the sources of the Russian law, as follows from the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The federal Constitutional Court has formalized the point, and referred, on more than ninety occasions so far, to the European Convention on Human Rights, related protocols, and decisions by bodies established on the Convention basis, and by other Council of Europe institutions.

Let us now consider the influence of the ECHR precedent-based practice on the Russian legislative evolution. One of the most vivid examples is Criminal Procedural Code amendments concerning the right to legal assistance at the pre-trial stages of criminal proceedings. Thus, in its Resolution of June 27, 2000, the Russian Constitutional Court referred to the ECHR verdicts of May 24, 1991, on the Quaranta case; of November 24, 1993, on the Imbrioscia case; of February 8, 1996, on the John Murray case; of February 27, 1980, on the Deweer case; of July 15, 1982, on the Eckle case, and a number of others, to proclaim certain clauses of the Criminal Procedural Code as unconstitutional. In this way Russia recognized that the failure to provide legal assistance to the suspect immediately after detention clashed with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The later Russian criminal procedural legislation envisages that kind of legal assistance.

Standing apart in the Russian legal practice are ECHR decisions on complaints against Russia. The federal Constitutional Court has so far recurred to only one of such decisions - on the Burdov vs. the Russian Federation, of May 7, 2001. That was how a new precedent was set in Russia, stipulating that the government cannot site shortage of funds as a reason not to pay compensation in accordance with a court ruling. Burdov's case concerned compensations for damage done by the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. Several thousand Chernobyl rescuers received legal assistance to protect their civil rights thanks to the case.

Complaints against Russia have a political content, and influence the country's public image in the world. Naturally, such complaints and related ECHR decisions have the greatest chance to influence the national legislation by speeding up its evolution and helping to abolish clauses that clash with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

As we know, Russia's international agreements stipulate the right of every Russian citizen to apply to interstate human rights and freedoms institutions in case all national legal assistance means have been exhausted. The ECHR, in its turn, accepts for consideration only those cases that have come through two national instances - the first and the court of appeal, plus another one on cases within the competence of justices of the peace.

What legal implications do particular ECHR decisions have for Russia? As the European Convention on Human Rights has it, such decisions demand effective measures to prevent further Convention violations similar to those the court decision concerns. What the point implies in practice is a pledge not to tolerate similar precedents, as exposed by the ECHR. The latest Russian criminal and arbitration legislation is created in line with that obligation. Thus, the Russian Criminal Procedural Code qualifies a violation of the Convention on Human Rights in considering a criminal case, when ascertained by the ECHR, as new facts offering grounds to reopen criminal proceedings. The review of a court verdict in such instances is up to the federal Supreme Court Presidium on its president's representation. The Russian Arbitration Procedural Code establishes analogous norms.

Special situations appear when a national legislative norm clashes with the Convention on Human Rights, as confirmed by an ECHR decision. In such instances, the legal defects are to be corrected by the legislator, i.e., the Federal Assembly (Russia's parliament) and the President. The Constitutional Court of Russia can come out with its own verdict on certain similar instances.

International treaties to which Russia is signatory regard its national law as part of the united European legal environment. The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is evidently one of the pillars of that unity. The legal practice of other European countries, and judicial dialogues with the ECHR and with those countries' constitutional courts promote Russia's progress in that direction.

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