Court transparency

Full title: Court transparency as a means of ensuring citizens’ constitutional right of access to information

Period: January 2013 – December 2015

Federal law № 262 “On the provision of access to information concerning judicial activity in the Russian Federation” (effective as of July 1, 2010), theoretically provides a high standard of informational transparency in court proceedings. Unfortunately, in today’s Russia, a law’s enactment is no guarantee of its application in practice. New laws and even regulations of the 1993 Constitution (to say nothing of international legal standards) are often ignored by judges who have not received proper training, and who continue to operate under the Soviet-era tradition of complying not with the law, but with prevailing practice.

The aforementioned law stipulates that all information related to court rulings is to be placed on the respective courts’ websites with the exception of personal data, state secrets and other protected areas. In practice, courts of all levels often interpret the law arbitrarily and allow for gross violations of citizens’ rights. Such violations range from preventing dissemination of unclassified information to inappropriate publication of medical or other confidential personal data that is protected by law.

The target groups of the Project, representatives of Russian judicial and mass media communities, still suffer from post-totalitarian closed-corporation-style attitudes, and tend to interact with a low degree of effectiveness: judges often do not understand the role of a free press, while journalists are often unfamiliar with international standards as regards publication of court information, and do not afford the court the respect that the institution deserves. The proposed Project aims to establish working contacts and cooperation between the two professional groups in such a way as to foster transparency in the regional judicial system. Later, we plan to suggest this model for introduction in other Russian regions.

The goal of the three-year Project, developed in conjunction with our long-standing partners, the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Academy of Justice and the Guild of Court Reporters, is to ensure court transparency and access to court information for the public. To reach this goal, we define the following objectives:

  • to design and launch a training program to prepare qualified court press-secretaries, and to assist the formation of press services at all 23 district federal courts of St. Petersburg;
  • to introduce local court reporters to international standards and practices related to reporting of court activities;
  • to study the experience of the counties ruled by law as regards solving the contradiction “principles of freedom of speech and transparency of justice versus principles of personal data and privacy protection,” to work out respective recommendations for courts and mass media.

To realize these objectives, we plan to organize a number of events and programs in the period 2013-2015:

  • Monitoring program to track court adherence to federal law № 262 and applicable international standards in the Russian northwest, specifically concerning publication of information on court websites.
  • Analyses of local press publications related to court activities.
  • Research on court practices in other countries and of international courts as regards ensuring access to court information.
  • Round table on best practices of collaboration between judiciary and mass media. Three “Training the trainers” seminars for experts in court statistics and court websites, collaboration of courts and mass media, personal data protection, specifics of informing the public about closed court proceedings.
  • Developing and printing a desk book for court press secretaries and recommendations for court reporters.
  • Concluding conference for court press secretaries, court reporters and representatives of the Academy of Justice from other Russian regions in order to share the experience gained during the Project.

The Project will result in appearance of a cohort of qualified court press secretaries and court reporters motivated to follow international legal standards in their professional activities. Providers of legal information and all citizens involved in conflicts considered in courts will also benefit from the Project.