This chapter explores the origins and the development of judicial reform in Russia in the 1990s. It begins with an explanation of why strong and autonomous courts matter for democratic government and market economies; continues with a capsule portrait of the weak and dependent state of courts and judges in the last decades of Soviet power; and concludes with an account of the politics of judicial reform in the new Russian state.
Why should one study, support, and even promote the reform of courts in post-Soviet Russia? The answer is that law matters equally for the development of market economies and democratic states, and that strong, autonomous, and respected courts are necessary parts of an effective legal order.
A market-oriented economy entails countless transactions among private (and also public) actors, and these transactions are based upon confidence that the social environment is sufficiently stable and predictable to make them worthwhile. Two of the most critical elements of this environment are property rights (ownership) and the reliability of contractual relations, both of which must be developed and supported by law. In addition, in modern economies the laws of the state define and regulate the nature and lifespan of economic entities (corporate governance, bankruptcy) and key supporting institutions (banks,