In view of the ruling of the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the Presidium of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation from March 18, 20201 Russian courts have been working in a new self-isolated regime for just over a month. Personal reception of citizens in courts is suspended, it is recommended to submit documents through electronic reception of courts, and courts are considering only certain categories of cases.
The Supreme Court has already drawn up the results of the first month of work in the new regime2. From March 18 to April 20, 2020 the courts received 225.2 thousand documents in electronic form — this is one and a half times or 77.3 thousand documents more than for the same period of the previous year. More than 286 million times, citizens have used the state automation system Pravosudiye (Justice). Also by the end of May a system of online familiarization with case materials is planned to be introduced in all commercial courts of all instances3.
The system of online familiarization is already working in the Commercial Court of the Moscow District. For this purpose, in the service My arbitrator the participant in the tab Applications and motions chooses Motion for familiarization with case materials. Further, in the Documents tab the participant in the case sets a tick Provide access to the case materials in a restricted mode. According to the My arbitrator4 system, online familiarization will soon become available in the commercial courts of following regions: Ryazan region, Smolensk region, Samara region, Ulyanovsk region, Republic of Tatarstan, Volga district. The list of regions is expected to expand rapidly.
Although no one had any doubts about the technical capability of court’s electronic reception because the SAS Pravosudiye and My arbitrator system have been used for a long time. Many questions were raised about the possibility of holding trials online.
With the introduction of non-working days for almost a month, it became necessary to review cases remotely. The Supreme Court in ruling of March 18, 2020 recommended that the courts should consider cases using a videoconferencing system (VCS) if technical capacity exists. One of the district courts in the Sverdlovsk Region became the discoverer of this field, after he had hold its first online trial on April 1 using WhatsApp5 video call. It was even before the recommendations of the Supreme Court. Also, on the website of the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region appeared an announcement of court proceedings via Skype, but this news was soon removed from the site.
At the beginning, the Supreme Court left the issues of using VCS to the courts discretion: if it is technically possible to initiate the consideration of cases by using videoconferencing systems (ruling from March 18, 2020). This approach has slightly changed after the successful consideration of six cases by the Supreme Court on April 21 via a web-conference. In this regard, the new ruling of the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the Presidium of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation from April 29, 20206 recommends: It is recommended to the courts, where they have the technical capacity, taking into account the opinions of participants of proceedings, to hold court sessions regarding the cases (materials) referred to in Items 3 and 4 of this Ruling with the use of videoconferencing and (or) web conferencing system, in particular taking into account the experience of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
As it follows from the ruling from April 29, 2020 the Supreme Court recommends the courts to hold their sessions online both by means of VCS system and by means of web-conferences. VCS was practiced in the Supreme Court earlier as well. For example, in 2019, the Judicial Chamber on Economic Disputes considered 9 cases using videoconferencing system in six months7. As the Supreme Court itself points out8, Russia has 20 years of experience in the use of the VCS, and since 2019, the Supreme Court has been actively holding court hearings via web-conference.
In contrast to VCS, where the essence of the procedure reduces to participation from the court-house in the home region, in a web conference the parties can attend court proceedings without leaving their homes. In order to participate in the web-conference the parties need to go through identification and authentication process via State Services system, then to send an application and documents confirming powers to the court through their personal account in advance. If such an application is satisfied, participants will receive a link to the virtual hall of the Supreme Court in their personal account.
As of today, several courts have already followed the recommendations of the Supreme Court regarding online trial. Among the commercial courts the first online hearing was held on April 28, 2020 by the Commercial Court of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district9. The parties filed applications to participate in the court proceedings by using videoconferencing through the My arbitrator system. As it is stated on the website of the Commercial Court of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District: A party participating in the case uses a familiar and reliable interface of the information system Card Index of Commercial Cases, which displays a record of the court hearing in a web-conference mode with the date and time of the hearing to inform other parties to the case and provide them with an opportunity to join the court hearing"10.
Furthermore, according to the information in the "My arbitrator"11 system it is already possible to hold online proceedings in the Commercial Court of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District and the Commercial Court of Moscow region. Whether other courts will follow the recommendations of the Supreme Court regarding online trial will only show the next two weeks of self-isolation. At the same time, the Ministry of Justice has already started preparing a draft of legislation on the possibility of holding online proceedings on civil, commercial and administrative disputes12.
1The Ruling the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the Presidium of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation from March 18, 2020 // URL: http://www.supcourt.ru/files/28814/
2Work of Russian court during pandemic // URL: http://www.supcourt.ru/press_center/news/28858/
3Online familiarization with cate materials started to work in the Commercial court of Moscow District // URL: https://pravo.ru/news/220495/
4The list of courts where online familiarization with audio records of court hearings and other documents is available // URL: https://my.arbitr.ru/#help/4/57
5Coronavirus forced courts to shift to online. The fist WhatsApp hearing was held in Ural / Коммерсантъ // URL: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4310104
6The Ruling of the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the Presidium of the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation from April 29, 2020 // URL:http://www.supcourt.ru/files/28873/
7The Supreme Court statistics: how the main court of Russia works // URL: https://pravo.ru/story/214573/
8Web conference in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation // URL: http://www.supcourt.ru/press_center/news/28867/
9The Commercial court of Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district held the first online court hearings // URL: https://pravo.ru/news/221158/?desc_search=
10The first web conference hearings were held on April 28, 2020 in the Commercial court of Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district // URL: https://yamal.arbitr.ru/node/14094
11The list of courts where online online hearings is available // URL: https://my.arbitr.ru/#help/4/56
12The Ministry of Justice prepares a draft of legislation on the possibility of participating in a court hearing from home or office // URL: https://tass.ru/obschestvo/8389941