The Judicial System

The judiciary in Russia is not a single whole; it is split into three branches: the regular court system with the Supreme Court at the top, the arbitration co urt system with the High Court of Arbitration on top, and the Constitutional Co urt as a single body with no courts under it. (The Supreme Court and Constituti onal Court were discussed above.)

Whenever there is a dispute between business entities, the case is taken for tr ial by the courts of arbitration (business or economic courts in fact). The sys tem of these courts is on two levels topped by the High Court of Arbitration. T here are eighty-two courts of arbitration with some two-thousand judges handlin g about three hundred thousand disputes annually. But if a party to a civil cas e is a private citizen, not involved in business activities, the dispute has to be handled by a court of general jurisdiction.

Throughout Russia there are about fourteen thousand judges in some two thousand five hundred courts of general jurisdiction on various levels. The vast majori ty of litigation in Russia is heard by these regular courts. In 1993 these cour ts handled, for instance, one million eight hundred thousand civil cases.

The major link in the regular court system is the people's court. It serves eac h city district or rural district. Apart from the arbitration court system, the re are no courts of special jurisdiction in Russia like those handling domestic relations or probate disputes. As trial courts of general jurisdiction, the pe ople's district courts handle over ninety percent of all civil and criminal cas es. Only a limited category of cases involving the most serious crimes fails di rectly under the original jurisdiction of the next level of courts--the oblast (region, province) courts. Cases are tried by one of several methods: a case ca n be tried by a presiding, professional judge and two lay judges called "people 's assessors," or by a panel of three professional judges, or by a single judge . In 1993 Russia started to experiment with jury trials (panels of twelve juror s). A jury trial is only available in serious crimes--those where jurisdiction originates in the oblast courts.

Decisions of the lower trial courts can be appealed through intermediate courts up to the Supreme Court of Russia. It should also be noted that all higher cou rts have discretionary trial jurisdiction.

Direct appeal to a higher court (in the Russian legal system the appellate proc edure is called "cassational review") is not the only way for a party to compla in against a trial court decision. Law provides the right of citizens to appeal to higher courts even when the time limits prescribed for cassational review h ave expired. This right can be exercised not only by a person duly convicted an d serving the sentence, but by anyone who wants to proceed on behalf of such pe rson. Acting upon this appeal the chairperson of a higher court or the procurat or of the corresponding level exercise their supervisory powers and bring their own complaint (called "protest") against the lower court's decision.

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