17 may 2012

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attends a plenary session on “Legal Policy in the 21st Century: New Challenges for Law in a Global Context” at the St Petersburg International Legal Forum

Dmitry Medvedev

At a plenary session on “Legal Policy in the 21st Century: New Challenges for Law in a Global Context” at the St Petersburg International Legal Forum

“Today in Russia, as with any other developing democracy, a bill that directly concerns people’s interests becomes a focal point for broad discussion. Internet and telecommunications technology now allow the public to participate in drafting a law.”

Dmitry Medvedev’s address to the forum:

Good afternoon, colleagues. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the second St Petersburg International Legal Forum. The venue of this forum is unique. I cannot recall anything similar taking place on Palace Square before. This means that lawyers are welcome in St Petersburg, for obvious reasons.

Last year I attended the first legal forum. As the Minister of Justice also mentioned, I am pleased to note that the number of participants has grown three times since then. Leading legal experts from over 50 countries have gathered in St Petersburg for this event. Among them are our colleagues who head courts and ministries of justice in major global economies, and managers of influential legal organisations. I am truly glad to see you all here at the forum. Thank you for your participation.

I should also mention here that addressing an audience of legal practitioners is always special for me. I am well aware that all of you attending this forum are not merely colleagues but also representatives of different legal systems and supporters of different legal frameworks, stances and doctrines. What we have in common, however, is an understanding of law as a paramount value. It is a paramount value indeed. Law school taught us one truth; a law-based state is the only universal system for ensuring justice, equality and freedom, protecting human rights and the sovereignty of a state, and creating a civilised rule of law across the world.

This plenary session is focused on the new challenges for law in a global context. Every state now faces the task of adapting to the ever-changing world. Our country is also only too familiar with this problem. That does not mean we know the answers to all the questions, of course. We look for answers and we do not always find them. But we do look for them and we will continue looking. The Russian legal system has undergone unparalleled changes over the past twenty years.

I would like to say the following. When we are criticised (often fairly, occasionally unfairly), our critics tend to forget that the legal system in this country is very young despite its deep roots and the fact that we are integrated into the European legal family. But it is developing and maybe this gives us hope for a successful future.

So far, we are in the process of creating a mechanism to secure the real protection of the most important constitutional rights and freedoms: equality before the law, observance of a balance between the state, the public and private interests, etc. Today in Russia, as with any other developing democracy, a bill that directly concerns people’s interests becomes a focal point for broad discussion. Internet and telecommunications technology now allow the public to participate in drafting a law by posting comments on a website or even suggesting the wording for a draft that may well become part of a law.  Let me remind you that we have discussed in this way a number of draft laws, specifically the draft law on the police force, with the debate involving tens of thousands of people. As a result, the draft law was substantially amended. Therefore, this practice will persist in the future. A number of countries have used this method and the popular crowdsourcing technologies in general with much success to draft their most important laws. And it is clear why: someone said 200 years ago that the great cause of legislating lies in creating the public good out of the utmost number of private interests. I think this succinct formula has not been tarnished over the last 200 years.

Involving broad strata of the public in the lawmaking process helps to turn out a higher-quality product, evade corruption-prone loopholes suiting political or economic interests or individual lobbyists, considerably increase openness and, as a consequence, the legitimacy of the legislative process. In this case, each participant in the process is conscious of his or her involvement in the drafting endeavor. In the long run, he will comply with the law more willingly because people accept things easier once they have processed them in their minds – that’s human nature and a psychological fact. Open legal policy is a mandatory element of the Open Government system. As you know, Open Government is an international partnership comprising several dozen states which sets the task of making state administration as transparent and top-quality as possible by constantly and actively involving civil society and through the use of new technology.

Russia is also following this road and I am an active proponent of this idea. In April 2012, I submitted a draft law on amending the Civil Code to the State Duma. In effect, it is a new version of the law. This draft document modifies the main provisions of civil legislation to a considerable extent. It took almost four years to draft the document, which was discussed at official and unofficial platforms, online and at numerous conferences and seminars. Before the document was submitted to the State Duma, thousands of remarks and proposals were received from public institutions, from the business community, from scientists and members of the public wishing to take part in the discussion of the law.

I will not conceal the fact that sometimes I had the impression that the different views of the participants in such discussions were mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, it became possible to draft an acceptable text. I get the impression that on the whole this highlights the victory of legal expertise, although the discussion did not end when the parliament passed the document in the first reading. This is normal.

Certainly, the Open Government should comprise an effective system for collecting public initiatives in the lawmaking sphere. Every day, we are subjected to a tremendous information flow. This information needs to be processed and checked quickly and effectively.  The proposals must be concentrated and reworked to conform to the legal requirements. In addition, we must also make sure that all legislative changes are predictable and systematic, that they conform to the economic and social policy, and the relevant challenges and threats now existing worldwide.

For this purpose, we need to establish modern research centres that will facilitate an ongoing constructive dialogue between the authors of the laws and the law enforcers. In many countries, such centres are established around existing and well-known research institutions and law schools, although it is possible to start from scratch in some cases. I think the expert community is facing a top priority – to quickly draft and offer society a system of regulations that is maximally free from contradictions and that is effective for dealing with both current and future tasks. This is especially important given that in the past few years, global civil society has created the need for an effective, high-quality government that is maximally open to interaction. This is a requirement that concerns not only Russia, but all countries everywhere – in the western hemisphere, in the eastern hemisphere, in the south and in the north. These are realities that all of us must consider. The government will have to respond to this need, and I hope it will do so efficiently.

Colleagues, I wholly agree that open legislation must not only be open to its citizens, but that it must also be open and understandable to the outside world. It should take into account foreign legal practices, it should be adjusted to international law and, as they say, it should be competitive. Lawyers closely observe developments in their neighbours’ legal systems, as well as global legal trends. Every industrialised country uses legislation to protect its national interests and ensure the competitiveness of its legislation on the global stage.

The idea of competitive legislation should be considered from at least two angles. The internal angle has to do with the competitiveness of national legislation compared with foreign legislation as the regulator of relations in the country. Correspondingly, the external angle concerns the competitiveness of the law compared with other systems of regulation abroad. However, legislation that is ineffective and is not applied domestically – we can cite relevant examples, as there are some spheres of law that are not effective even in countries with a developed legal system – cannot be competitive externally either.

The external competitiveness of law is connected to economic, political and cultural factors. For example, in conditions of globalisation, modern financial centres demand that all players, irrespective of nationality, comply with the accepted rules. Another factor has to do with the operation of players on the legal services market – the law firms and lawyers who are the conduits of the corresponding legal system.

A few more words about competition: Every phenomenon has a flip side, which in this case is unfair competition practices of foreign legal systems, such as presenting a foreign system as an ideal model, discouraging references to other legal and court systems and using a court system in competition with the courts of other countries to ensure the adoption of political decisions in the interests of their country. This is a fact of modern life, as every lawyer here knows, and this issue will be likely addressed today.

It is a fact that a good law is always a balance between private and public interests established during a public discussion. It is always a compromise between different viewpoints, and a compromise can be found only when people are willing to listen, when they do not pretend but genuinely try to understand the views of the other side in the discussion. I am confident that we lawyers are the people who can and should ensure such mutual understanding. We were taught this skill at university, and it is vital for our states and for world order.

I would like to emphasise that we need to act in unison against such modern global challenges as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, organised transnational crime, drug trafficking, and the threat of natural and man-made disasters. We can achieve this only through the collective efforts of states based on undeviating respect for the supremacy of law.

Many say that the international legal system has become obsolete. I have heard this said many times during my political practice. They say that its norms do not always ensure an effective response to new challenges. This is partly true, because everything eventually becomes obsolete, and the legal system is no exception. But the acute need for modernising international law does not mean that we should abandon its founding principles, which I believe is an obvious truth.

Particularly dangerous, in my view, are unilateral actions made in violation of the fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations, which is the main venue where the international community brings it problems. In fact, this is the only venue we have, even though some may not like it. But it truly is the only venue. And we understand that the UN Charter calls for respecting the supreme power of law and the sovereignty of states.

One more thing that I believe is important, considering my experience in politics, is the concept of state sovereignty. It should not be undermined even if for the sake of achieving some immediate political gain, including an election to a particular post. Such attempts threaten global order. There have been many recent examples of the concept of state sovereignty being undermined. Military operations against foreign states bypassing the United Nations, declarations of illegitimacy of certain political regimes – on behalf of foreign states rather than the people of the country involved – and imposing various collective sanctions, again bypassing international institutions, are some of them. This does not improve the situation in the world while rash military interference in the affairs of another state usually results in radicals coming to power. Such actions, which undermine state sovereignty, can easily lead to full-scale regional wars even ­­– I am not trying to scare anyone here – with the use of nuclear weapons. Everybody should remember this especially when we analyse the concept of state sovereignty.

This is why all nations are equally responsible for global security, and the opinions of all sides as well as the historical, religious and cultural aspects of different countries should be taken into account when taking international decisions. Any attempts to impose one’s opinion contradict the rules of international partnership and mutual respect. They prevent us from building a long-term and stable global order.

In recent years, our country has advanced several initiatives to improve the legal framework in many areas. The task of strengthening the legal foundation and inter-state relations is at the core of the European Security Treaty.

We have also proposed establishing an international mechanism to prevent and clean-up off-shore disasters, to strengthen nuclear security, which is crucial in light of the manmade disasters that keep shaking our planet, and fight maritime piracy. We proposed setting up a global energy security framework, and a concept for protecting intellectual property online. We understand that so far, this area has gone completely unnoticed by law enforcement and there are many problems with it. At the same time, we know what kinds of online activity are not allowed. I do think that we should start working on this instead of hiding our heads in the sand.

Very soon, the G8 will discuss many topical issues at Camp David. I have just mentioned some of them, including energy security and food safety. There are many international issues on the agenda, specifically, the situation in Syria, the settlement of the conflicts in the Middle East and nuclear security.

I strongly believe that the right of each nation to choose its path of development is as important as other ideals that we cherish and strive for, which are the ideals of freedom and justice.

Good luck to the participants of the conference. Thank you.

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Dmitry Medvedev’s concluding remarks:

Colleagues, I’ve listened to your reports with much interest. They were very informative, and I mean what I say. In my line of duty, I have to attend many different forums. Let me tell you that our legal forum, unlike a number of other forums, is absolutely specific, while the reports that we’ve heard here, the reports delivered by the respected heads of legal agencies and the judicial system, were informative and to the point. I think it is very important that, in the presence of numerous guests, specialists and our colleagues in the legal profession, we openly discuss certain difficulties or problems, while at the same time suggesting a common course of action. I would like to share some impressions on what I’ve heard.

I fully agree with what Mr Bergsten (Eric Bergsten, Secretary of the UN Commission on International Trade Law in 1985-1991; President, Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot) said regarding changes in the legal education system. I was both a law student and a law teacher: what we are taught during our student years will indeed stick for a long time in our minds and will shape our legal mentality. Of course, legal education should be fully exposed to global trends. I have vivid memories of how the transition to new society took place in this country in the early 1990s. It was an extremely difficult time because both students and teachers failed to keep up with developments. Students were asking questions that Soviet-trained teachers found difficult to answer. A number of courses were very specific and were permeated with communist ideology. Somehow all of that lingers in our minds. But we have dealt with it, and in spite of everything we live in a new world. Although there does remain a difference in legal systems – the common, precedent law, on the one hand, and the continental, Latin law, on the other – legal education is increasingly global in nature, and this is why I fully support this concept.

I would also like to support these ideas, which were suggested by Attorney General Eric Holder (Head of the United States Department of Justice). In particular, this has to do with the partnership between our two countries and between other states concerning highly important issues of the modern agenda. This, of course, includes international terrorism and the rule of law. We have made considerable headway in this area over the past few years, although we often hold different stances on certain issues.

The fight against corruption is the second issue in the area of international cooperation. We have already made considerable headway in our relations in this area. It should be admitted that this is a trans-national problem, as my colleagues have mentioned. All of us realise that combating corruption is a difficult task. We understand the need to use new and unconventional methods, because the world is changing, and because some absolutely fantastical money-transfer and money-laundering methods are appearing. Consequently, legislation and our cooperation in this sphere need to change. In my opinion, a fundamental shift in the systems of control must take place.

Apart from this fundamental shift, habits are also very important. We should not conceal the fact that the corruption model is widespread in many states, including ours, which does not set a good standard of behaviour. This involves not only top officials or high-ranking individuals. This is a corruption model, which unfortunately manifests itself in everyday activities and in everyday habits. So when it comes to anti-corruption measures, such measures must be implemented at all levels of society life. I have repeatedly mentioned this, and I would also like to mention this in the presence of our colleagues.

The issues of introducing new corporate standards are very important. I also agree with the Attorney General’s statements on this issue. The crisis has proven this in full measure. We saw a multitude of well-to-do people who probably were not implicated in any shady dealings before that time. On the one hand, they deceived a lot of their fellow citizens and their clients. This is an issue for all industrial countries, and we must realise that the conversion to new corporate standards is a highly important task for the concerned states. Incidentally, we mention this on a regular basis during the G20 summits. I believe that jurists will be able to make their contribution to the development of this system as well.

The Chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court of Russia and my colleague, Anton Ivanov, spoke about the competition between legal systems, which he believes is a good thing, and also about unfair competition between legal systems, which he believes is a negative aspect of today's legal life. In general, I would like to support him by saying the following. Clearly, the ineffectiveness of legal systems will always be an incentive to start using other legal systems, to turn to foreign courts or to an international tribunal. At the same time, this ineffectiveness cannot constitute grounds for spreading a foreign legal system to other countries or applying it to foreign nationals, because, as a rule, this is not done out of humanitarian considerations, but for a very specific political purpose. Therefore, I believe that everything that we have discussed, including possible ways to stave off unfair competition, can be put to use if only because it's a civil way to clarify the relationships between legal systems. All the alternatives are worse. I believe that this idea should be examined. The government is ready to do so.

Of course, embargoes, moratoria or retaliation are very tough measures, but they are occasionally practised in international relations. In any case, I believe that this is better than military operations. They should be aimed at protecting the interests of specific people who require effective legal aid and effective solutions to their disputes.

Mr Decorps (Jean-Paul Decorps, President of the International Union of Notaries) said that the legal field is becoming increasingly complicated, and that global challenges require global responses. This is certainly true, but at the same time, we hope that as the legal field is becoming more complex, certain forms of legal communication will become more straightforward. I am referring to electronic legal documents.

Nevertheless, we must continue harmonising our legal systems, since adding  complexity to existing legal systems (I fully agree with this statement) is not ultimately conducive to achieving a better understanding of law or better protection of the interests of our citizens. I believe that perhaps we do not fully realise how important the notary certification is today, and countries that use notaries and notary certification can contribute to combating corruption, among other things. Of course, we realise that nobody is perfect, and Mr. Decorps himself said that trusts and some other forms are now being used everywhere, including in the countries of continental law, where the use of notarised forms of recording declarations of intent is quite widespread. This is a global problem, and we must learn from each other.

The remarks of Mr Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice of the United Kingdom, were also very, very interesting. Indeed, Russian business has long since been using London to conduct transactions, because it is an established environment with long-standing legal traditions, an established judiciary system and properly run law firms. Last but not least, listing stocks on the London Stock Exchange is a very, very respectable way of attracting investors. I believe that we will continue to cooperate in this area, even despite certain scepticism regarding some common problems. The minister said that there should be no unfair legal competition or legal protectionism. I would probably disagree with this statement, because we're not talking about protectionism in the economy, which is definitely a bad thing, and we are all combating our own specific problems in this area. However with regard to the law, it is still confined to national borders and national legal systems. We have not dissolved these borders across the globe, and each state will still defend its own legal system, even the countries that are part of the European Union with all its advances in the European integration.

Human rights is a very important, very sensitive and very interesting subject in today's world, given the complex processes that are taking place in Europe, Russia, the Arab world and elsewhere. It should be addressed by the judicial system and the law-based state. I believe that we should be using common approaches in the newly arising situations. Whenever something happens anywhere, be it New York, London or Moscow, we must change ourselves, not just tighten responsibility or turn off the Twitter during civil unrest. Nobody is perfect, but we need to adapt to the new world.

Colleagues, it has been very interesting to listen to what you had to say, including the remarks of Mr Lamanda, President of the Cassation Court of France, and Ms Wu Aying, Minister of Justice of the People's Republic of China. I would like to say that our meetings help us better understand the current realities and, most importantly, to shape the future agenda. Lawyers seem to be formal people who support political and economic processes. However, people in this audience are well aware of how important our opinion and our legal stance are in times when we are not merely reflecting someone's will or economic processes, but rather, are determining policies and economic development and laying the foundations for a prosperous life.

I am sincerely grateful to all of you who came to St Petersburg today. Enjoy your panel discussions, and I'm sure that we will meet again in this beautiful city during this beautiful spring. Thank you.