This article explores how Russians think about their courts and whether court veterans are distinguishable from those who have never used the courts. The analysis is based on data generated by a nationally representative survey fielded in 2010. The analysis clearly shows that users and nonusers think differently about courts and law. Users are both more positive and more negative about the courts, depending on the context. Although they praise the work of judges and other courthouse personnel in their own cases, they seem to emerge with lingering negative views of the courts that come into focus when asked more general questions. Nonusers tend to be more optimistic about the potential of courts to achieve justice.
Justice-of-the-peace courts (JP courts) have been in operation for ten years in Russia. The article assesses the extent to which they have fulfilled the original policy goals of diverting mundane cases away from the raionnye (district) courts and making the legal system more accessible to ordinary citizens. Policy makers have repeatedly tinkered with their jurisdictional parameters in order to find a proper dividing point between the JP courts and the district courts. The caseload data document that the JP courts now handle almost all first-instance administrative cases, as well as about three-quarters of all civil cases. Their role in criminal justice is more constrained. Their success in processing huge numbers of cases is facilitated by the use of “judicial orders” (sudebnye prikazy) in many civil cases, and by the use of a type of plea bargaining (osoboe proizvodstvo) in criminal cases. Each of these procedural mechanisms obviates the need for a full hearing on the merits.
Russian lawyers have traditionally been politically pliant. The paper explores the potential for change. By focusing on the results of a survey of a cohort of 2015 graduates of law faculties across Russia, it asks whether lawyers might be prepared to use their expertise to challenge the Putin regime. About 30 percent of the sample were motivated to study law by a desire to change and improve society. The analysis shows that this group is more supportive of Putin’s policies than the rest of the respondents. This suggests that they are unlikely to lead the charge for greater democracy or spark a resurgence of civil society.