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By John Helmer in Moscow

It’s tough being the greatest legal reformer ever to occupy the Kremlin because none of the tsars who preceded Dmitry Medvedev had a university degree in jurisprudence. Mikhail Gorbachev might be considered a close runner, because he received his law degree from Moscow State University in 1955. But then Medvedev wouldn’t be the only one among Gorbachev’s successors to deny him the laurel, for fear of attracting the electoral doom he would share with Gorbachev, if he were more generous.
 

Still, the record suggests that Gorbachev’s contribution was to strip legality from the old regime. Medvedev’s record so far has been to legalize the distribution of power and wealth before there are further challenges.

As keeper of this status quo, Medvedev has made his presidential career stating a number of powerfully obvious principles of what he terms legal reform. They are powerful, because Medvedev decides when the telephone rings to apply them in practice, and also when the telephone doesn’t ring, and they don’t. Medvedev has famously called that “telephone justice”. The legal principles are obvious, because they are already set out in the version of the Russian Constitution which Boris Yeltsin arranged to enact by a suspiciously small margin of votes in December 1993; the gerrymander is now a national holiday.

It is therefore important to understand how exactly the lawyer president interprets Article 46 sections 1 and 2 of the Constitution. These say:

1. Everyone shall be guaranteed judicial protection of his rights and freedoms.
2. Decisions and actions (or inaction) of bodies of state authority and local self-government, public associations and officials may be appealed against in court.

When these sections are tested in court, Medvedev appears to be authorizing a doctrine of such sweeping sovereign immunity as to render them null and void.

There have been several tests since Medvedev took office. The most recent one was instituted in by the Institute for Information Freedom Development (IIFD), which sued in the Tverskoy district court of Moscow. This court is so notorious for its abuses, Medvedev and his lawyers cannot be unaware of them. In fact, the court was selected by the Kremlin in order to judge a complaint which had been filed with a branch of Medvedev’s office titled the “Presidential Directorate for Communication and Public Feedback”. According to the Kremlin website, this office “examines oral and written correspondence addressed to the President of Russia and the Presidential Executive Office by Russian and foreign citizens and stateless persons. It carries out information and reference work related to citizens’ correspondence, analyses citizens’ correspondence addressed to the President and draws up the appropriate reports. It provides the information, analytical and methodological support for the Presidential Executive Office’s work with citizens’ correspondence.” The head of the directorate is Mikhail Gennadievich Mikhailovsky.

According to IIFD spokesman, Yelena Golubeva, “we turned to the President of Russia to assess legitimacy of certain actions of a high-ranking official.” The IIFD has not disclosed the name or details of the official’s alleged misconduct. The IIFD’s official complaint to Mikhailovsky referred to evidence the IIFD had gathered of alleged abuse of official position and the use of state budget funds for personal benefit.” It has beeb reported that the target of the IIFD was Yury Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow, and the complaint to Mikhailovsky referred to the handling of the IIFD claims against Luzhkov by members of the Kremlin staff.

What happened to the complaint filing, according to Golubeva, was that “for reasons unknown, the officials of the President’s Directorate for Communication and Feedback redirected our application to the Moscow City Court. Then we drafted an administrative appeal to the head of the Directorate [Mikhailovsky] requesting the reason and stating the responsibility for the redirection of our request. No reply was received from the head of the President’s Directorate, and the Institute appealed this in the Tverskoy court.” To read IIFD’s court filing, open this link.

The court issued its ruling on April 23, and it was published by IIFD last week. In the one-page decision, written by Judge Marina Salnikova, the claim against Mikhailovsky was dismissed on the ground that as a member of Medvedev’s staff, Mikhailovsky enjoys the same immunity as the president himself. According to the judgement, “appealing through the courts against government bodies and their officials directly subordinate to the President of the Russian Federation, as well as filing suits against these government bodies, in practice implies direct or indirect intervention into the constitutional, legal and other activities of the President of Russia as the head of state, who has immunity and exercises supreme governmental authority in the Russian Federation, which is inadmissible and violates the basis of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation and the principle of separation of powers stated in Article 10 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation”.


 

Medvedev’s public spokesman, Natalia Timakova, was asked on the record two questions: “1. Are you aware of the lawsuit in Moscow calling Mikhail Mikhailovsky to account for failure to respond to citizens’ complaints? 2. Do you agree with the doctrine of immunity issued in the Moscow court ruling in the Mikhailovsky case, which renders presidential employees and subordinates covered by presidential immunity and non-accountable in civil lawsuits?”

Timakova’s reply was not audible.

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