Yukos and the Russian Courts


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Yukos pursued its case within the Russian legal system for years, but Russia’s judicial proceedings are often dominated by the state and this was particularly apparent in Yukos’ case.

The European Parliament has repeatedly criticised Russia’s judiciary over its lack of independence. A 2009 report by the commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe found a “traditionally subservient attitude among many judges and prosecutors”.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German justice minister and the rapporteur behind the document, stated that:

In the light of meetings with senior representatives of the Supreme Court on the one hand and leading independent experts, former judges and lawyers on the other, my impression is that Russian judges are – still, and maybe even increasingly so – under serious pressure to ‘function’ as expected by the powers-that-be.

The International Commission of Jurists drew similar conclusions in a report in 2010, which criticised corruption and “telephone justice”, where an official puts in a call to a judge to influence a ruling. Many judges see their role as protecting state interests.

The US State Department, in its online report on Russia, notes that:

The judiciary is not independent, is often subject to manipulation by political authorities, and is plagued by large case backlogs and trial delays.

Freedom House, the US-based rights watchdog, said of the Russian judiciary in its 2010 Nations in Transit report that:

Judges have little scope for independence in controversial or politically important cases because they are beholden to their superiors (court chairmen) for promotions and a variety of perquisites. Court chairmen are picked by the president and beholden to the executive branch.

In January 2010, outspoken Russian judge Anatoly Kononov was forced to step down after he criticised the Russian Constitutional Court for its lack of independence.

Russia’s lack of judicial independence has also been noted in the English courts.

In 2009 Oleg Deripaska, once Russia’s richest man, appealed against a UK high court decision that a case brought against him by his one-time associate Michael Cherney be tried in England rather than Russia, where Cherney feared his life might be in danger.

The court held that both sides accepted that the Russian courts would lean towards the Russian government, either where it was a party or where strategic interests were at stake, noting:

In the present case what is of concern is that it appears to be common ground between the experts that, in certain cases, the arbitrazh courts cannot necessarily be expected to perform their task fairly and impartially.

Despite some attempts at reform through the 1990s, the Russian court system remains less than impartial. By contrast, and even within Russia itself, the European Court of Human Rights is seen as an effective tool for justice.

On 23 April 2004 Yukos submitted its own application to the European Court of Human Rights.


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