Vladimir Pligin, Chairman of the Committee of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation on the Constitutional Legislation and State-Building, held a lecture on development of administrative legal proceedings legislation in the Russian Federation at the 6th St Petersburg International Legal Forum.
Opening the session, he noted that in 2015 alone, courts in the Russian Federation handled over 15 million civil and administrative cases, of which 4,5 million cases were heard according to the Code of Administrative Legal Proceedings enacted in September last year. Vladimir Pligin explained how the concept of administrative proceedings was created. "At a certain point, we assumed that having independent "branches" would be an overkill, complicating the legal procedures and impeding access to justice," he said.
Pligin emphasized that procedural law is indispensable to establish the rule of law and public order: "Procedural law forms the basis for the substantial law and its enforcement by establishing specific rules and procedures." At the same time, he noted, substantial law receives much more attention than procedural law, which is wrong: "We must not downplay the role and importance of procedural provisions. They are derived from the substantial law but this does not imply they are peripheral." Speaking on the relation between procedural and substantial law, Pligin said: "Efficient advocacy is only possible for individuals and subjects if we ensure adversariality, evaluate evidence and provide necessary rights in a proper way. The procedure is of utmost importance to build trust in the justice system."
Pligin sees the principle of impartiality and neutrality of the court as the most important one to ensure that both parties are able to enforce their procedural rights and perform their procedural duties, including the right to call for evidence of their own motion. According to Pligin, the court has to be proactive and step away from the standard role to help the weaker party.
In his lecture, Pligin focused on changes to the Code of Administrative Legal Proceedings enacted on May 6, which describe court orders in tax-related cases. Under the new provisions, a debt enforcement order can be challenged within 20 days from the date it was sent to the debtor. This change has been implemented because court orders of this type can be enacted by default and sent by mail while 30-40% of all Russian citizens do not reside at their registered address. "If we do not bureaucratize life excessively, this will mean we do not notify a large number of people, they do not receive mail, meaning that the parties are deprived of their legitimate right to defend," Pligin argued.
Tax-related cases are the most common among administrative cases. This being said, the new Code stipulates the possibility to revoke court orders and simplifies proceedings for cases with claims under 20,000 rubles. "This applies to 3 million cases, so we are trying to alleviate the load on courts, enabling the judges to focus on other cases and be more thorough," Pligin said.
Among the most important provisions of the new Code, Pligin also mentioned the possibility to abandon an administrative claim. "Abandoning an administrative claim initiated to enforce rights and legally protected interests of the public will not close the case, abandoning an administrative claim initiated to enforce rights and legally protected interests of a specific person will not close the case as well, unless this person approves the abandonment", he noted.
Among the Code provisions which proved to be a failure, Pligin named the requirement for lawyers to provide a proof of higher legal education. Authors of this provision, as explained by Pligin, never intended it to function in this way.
"When you are drafting a provision, it seems perfectly understandable and precise to you, so it does not require any sophistication. By stipulating that the lawyers should have a higher legal education, we could not even imagine that copies of their diplomas will be required for them to take part in the proceedings. Practice is unpredictable," Pligin explained.
"This is a small detail but it's really interesting because when you lay down a provision, you see it in a certain way, but then it starts its own, completely different life. Theory and practice are strikingly different, which makes it all very interesting. This very issue will be rectified, we are now drafting changes to the Code that enable lawyers to show only their identity card and a warrant issued by a corresponding lawyer association," Pligin added.
The deputy told the participants that a revised version of the Code of Administrative Legal Proceedings is now in preparation and should be published late May. Amendments to the Administrative Offense Code will be also passed, regulating administrative proceedings.
"We aim to create a balanced and efficient legal system allowing everyone to seek legal remedy to protect their rights, so I would like you to make a point of the requirements to implementation of justice set out in the Code. We quite often forget about the chapters on principles of justice or derogate from them, although they are of a paramount and fundamental importance. Every time a principle is used, be it proportionality, efficiency or humanity, it goes without saying that the courts should follow them. We were drafting the Code based on common values of justice: impartiality of judges, equality before law, contentiousness, publicity and transparency of judicial examination," Pligin said.
"As a result, everyone will benefit from detailed provisions describing administrative proceedings before commercial, magistrate and general jurisdiction courts," he emphasized.
Although the Code came into force only recently, its implementation must be a discussion topic - the authors tried to make it as exact and optimal as possible, but the Code needs further adaptations based on practical experience.
"What counts most is that we have a final document. Contrary to substantial law, the real importance of procedural law is when it exists. Substantial law governs relations, however democracy as well as protection of rights and interests are all rooted in procedural law so let us all pay attention to it," Pligin concluded.