Most students of democratization and the transition to a market economy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union envisage the development of a strong legal order, if not actually a "rule of law," as a vital and necessary ingredient of liberal political and economic change. Yet these writers have little to say about the processes through which such law and legal institutions develop, not to speak of a political culture featuring respect for law. 1 Clearly, the accomplishment of a "legal transition," from bureaucratic-authoritarian law to at least rule by law (the rechtsstaat), is a complicated, multidimensional, and lengthy process, involving institutional and cultural change as well as changes in the laws themselves. At the center of legal transition stand the courts, the bodies that execute the law and, ideally, administer justice at the same time.
In post-Soviet Russia politicians and legal officials alike have recognized the importance of strong and independent courts for the achievement of larger policy goals, and from 1992 have pursued a major program of judicial reform. The authors of this study seek to contribute to the realization of that program. They do this by first analyzing the state and operation of courts in Russia and the progress of their reform since the end of Soviet power, and then on this basis outlining what can and should be done to make courts in Russia autonomous, powerful, reliable, efficient, accessible, and fair. The authors, both Western specialists on Russian law and legal institutions, speak at one and the same time to two audiences -- Westem jurists, especially those involved in organizations in a position to contribute to judicial reform in Russia; and Russian legal and political officials, the persons whose actions directly shape the nature of courts and the judiciary in their country.
We are all too aware of the delicacy of our position, but hope that our approach to this undertaking will make our analysis credible and useful. In studying courts in Russia, we try to avoid an ethnocentric preference for Anglo-American ideals, such as adversarialism; and to compare the