Trial Court Judges
Some of the greatest threats to the autonomy of judges in Russia come from within the judiciary. Higher court judges, the chairmen of particular courts, and even the instruments of judicial self-governance like the judicial qualification commissions all influence the conduct of judges in trial courts. Without some such influence, there would be little consistency in judicial decisions or hierarchy of law, but there is a real danger that, as in the Soviet past, pressures for uniformity force judges to conform with regime policies, not to speak of the interests of bureaucratic superiors. The judicial system of post-Soviet Russia must not reproduce its traditional forms of judicial dependence.
Here we shall examine the pressures to conform faced by district court judges from four sources: their court chairmen; the regional or republican supreme court; the Supreme Court of Russia; and the judicial qualification commissions. We conclude with thoughts about how the new judicial departments may exacerbate or soften these pressures.
In Russia the chairmen of courts are powerful figures. At the district court, the chairman exercises control over many administrative functions that affect both the work lives and economic well-being of his judges. Typically, the chairman makes all decisions about the distribution of cases among the judges on his court and the choice of lay assessors. In