Bill Against Telephone Justice
The judicial community has asked the head of state to submit a bill to the State Duma to bring so-called “telephone justice” out of the shadows. The Presidential State Legal Directorate recently drafted a federal law regulating the procedure for recording non-judicial appeals to judges concerning the cases they consider.
“Telephone justice” is a term Russia inherited from its Soviet past, whereby top executives could command judges by telephone about what verdicts to give. Today, however, judges have a different status. They are independent and must pass judgments as dictated by the law and their conscience, not a command from above.
The procedure has not been disclosed yet but it has not been ruled out that judges might be recommended to keep special journals to record all outside telephone calls, letters or clearly stated questions.
Several years ago, arbitration courts began publishing all non-judicial addresses on cases under consideration. Openness proved a good remedy. The number of letters declined, but that did not stop the writers.
Some courts of general jurisdiction followed suit. In 2006, the Judges Council issued recommendations on how judges should respond to pleas from ordinary citizens and officials on cases being heard.
Judges must react to appeals by citizens, officials and other people if they consider they constitute an interference in the administration of justice or hamper the judge’s freedom, say the recommendations. The forms in which such appeals can be recorded are varied, and include entries in special logs, and information about the essence of the matter. All conversations should be taped.
Some arbitration courts have introduced the recording of telephone calls – all office telephones are monitored.
But monitoring all telephones would require considerable funds. The Supreme Arbitration Court is currently working out a general scheme for recording telephone conversations.
In February, the Kamchatka Territory arbitration court introduced the recording of all incoming calls. This was done “to guarantee the safety of judges and court staff and to preclude interference in the handing out of justice.”
“If judges or staff report instances of coercion or complain about unethnical, improper or corruption-related behavior, the chairman of the Kamchatka arbitration court may request audio tapes to check the complaints,” the court explained. The records will be stored for one month. A similar practice exists in some other arbitration courts.
To ensure the wider adoption of various practices to combat such a telephone law, the details should be set out in a bill.
Currently the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of Russia is elaborating a large-scale project to set up a common information space for courts of general jurisdiction. It is planned to introduce an automated end-to-end paperwork process, from judicial district magistrates to the Supreme Court. This is being done to enable those entering the portal to open their cases and keep an eye on all stages of litigation. It is also planned to enable people to appeal to the courts electronically.
Government Calls off Universal E-Card Program
The Russian government has effectively announced it is winding up E-Card, one of its most ambitious financial projects ever, because some regions cannot cope with the costs.
Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov announced on Monday planned amendments to the law on state services. One of them removes the requirement to begin issuing Universal Electronic Cards to every Russian citizen except those who refuse in writing, from 2014. This shock announcement comes less than a month after Sberbank made a formal presentation of its e-cards already available. Previously, only pilot projects had been discussed.
UEC, a company established to implement the project, is controlled by Sberbank with a 44 percent share; several major banks and software developer Sitronics also hold stakes in it. UEC was to begin issuing e-cards to anyone applying for one this year.
The universal smart card was one of Dmitry Medvedev's most ambitious projects. As president in 2009, he proposed building a nationwide payment system integrated with social security. The project timeframe was extended several times for lack of the required infrastructure. The e-cards Sberbank issued this year can only be used as IDs and a debit card which is accepted by a limited number of businesses whose cashless transactions are serviced by Sberbank.
According to Nikiforov, the plan to issue the cards to everyone proved unfeasible because regional governments cannot afford it, while no federal co-financing for the project was ever envisaged. For example, the estimated investment of 725 million rubles ($24 million) for Tatarstan would place a major burden on regional finances, Nikiforov said. In 2011, the total cost of the program until 2016 was estimated at over 100 billion rubles ($3.3 billion).
The termination of the e-card project was predictable. In any event it would not have lasted for more than a year, not with digital passports to be introduced in 2015. But that year would have been highly lucrative for one of its main operators, Sberbank. The bank is also the one to be hardest hit by the cancellation of the project.
Sberbank Vice President Alexei Popov, who heads UEC, previously said that the bank planned to issue 2-3 million e-cards in 2013 and up to 90 million by 2015. The infrastructure costs were to be shouldered by regional governments.
Popov told the media on Monday that Sberbank was continuing working on the project until it receives official instructions to do otherwise.
Banks that are not involved in the project gave a neutral reaction. “If the costs are indeed too high and the project is impossible to launch within a year to start making a profit, then the decision to close it down is wise,” said Mark Nakhmanovich, deputy chairman of Bank Vozrozhdeniye.
“The decision may be the result of lobbying by Sberbank’s rivals,” said Yelena Dvorovykh, vice president of SMP Bank. “If the state bank carried out this project, they would have no other choice but to join the e-card system, open corresponding accounts and pay commission fees.”
Russian Federal Air Transport Agency Grounds 4 of 10 Aeroflot Superjets
Aeroflot received a letter yesterday from the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency invalidating the airworthiness certificates of four out of ten Superjet-100 aircraft. A Sukhoi Civil Aircraft spokesman confirmed the temporary grounding of four airliners with documented undercarriage and slat systems failures.
The Sukhoi spokesman claims that the company has identified the root causes of the malfunctions and is rectifying them now. Aeroflot officials will meet in the coming days and the planes should be deemed airworthy again in a week.
“The plane is going through childhood glitches, like all new planes, including foreign ones,” the Sukhoi spokesman said. The most effective operation of the new equipment is achieved within the first two to four years of operation, he said, adding that it has only been just over a year so far. He said that the first planes were delivered to Aeroflot in a different configuration than the one stipulated in the contract. Sukhoi is ready to exchange them for new aircraft in the next few years.
According to flight registration data, only three of Aeroflot’s 10 SSJ-100’s fly regularly. The remaining seven have already been in repair for a few days.
Aeroflot has long known about problems with the SSJ-100. A year ago, the airline stated that the daily flight time averaged 3.9 hours, given a standard of 8-9 hours indicator for regional aviation. Malfunctions and late supplies of spare parts for their repair are the causes for grounding the planes, according to Aeroflot. A source in Sukhoi subsequently reported that Aeroflot is not suffering any direct losses from the grounded aircraft.
The manufacturer itself pays the airline for them, sources close to Aeroflot and Sukhoi confirmed, without stating the value of the compensation payments. This is not Sukhoi’s only concession to Aeroflot. The airline contracted a total of 30 aircraft and received a huge discount – 38 percent off the catalog price ($19 million instead of $31 million). In addition, Sukhoi provided the airline with free engineering services, technical support, trained its flight instructors and provided a simulator for training, said a source close to the company. A source close to Aeroflot said that the entire package is worth tens of millions of dollars.
The Federal Air Transport Agency and Aeroflot are not the only ones with problems with the quality of the SSJ-100. A few days ago, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov held a meeting on the issue, said a source close to Sukhoi, without revealing the outcome of the meeting. But immediately after the meeting, it was announced that as of February 1, Andrei Kalinovsky would replace Vladimir Prisyazhnyuk as Sukhoi President. Kalinovsky previously held the post of first vice-president of production and the director of its branch in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. However, the expiry of Prisyazhnyuk’s contract was cited as the official cause of the reshuffle.
Aeroflot spokesmen and Federal Air Transport Agency officials declined to comment.
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