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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Courts Lag Behind, Report Says

Russia's progress in judicial reform since 1990 has been one of the slowest in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the World Bank said in a report released Monday.

"The courts in Russia were reported rather weak in terms of ability to enforce decisions, transparency and accountability," James Anderson, a co-author of the report and senior economist in the bank's Europe and Central Asia region, said while presenting the report in a video conference from Warsaw. "Russia was among the lowest in the transition countries."

Russia also needed to focus on consolidating judicial independence and building trust in the courts, said Cheryl Gray, another author of the report and director of the bank's poverty reduction and economic management department for the region. "Russia doesn't fare well even in comparison with its neighbors in the level of trust in the judiciary," Gray said. "With an income from the middle to the upper end in this region, you might expect a better story."

Generally, only one-quarter of business managers and lawyers in the region surveyed for the report in 2002 believed that courts were fair, but the proportion was even smaller in Russia, where it was 18 percent -- the second-lowest, after Kyrgyzstan with 17 percent. The highest figure was in Hungary, where 55 percent believed the courts were fair.

Businesses and the general public across Eastern Europe and Central Asia identify courts as among the institutions perceived to be the most corrupt, the report said.

Judicial reform has lagged behind most other market-oriented reforms, and citizens' views of the courts appear to have worsened since the mid-1990s, the bank said in a statement accompanying the report.

Gray identified the introduction of information technology systems in courts as a key improvement, as judges now have better access to new laws and decisions. Such a reform is vital for Russia because of its size, she said. Courts also need a better case management system, she said. To make the system more transparent, court staff should also be adequately trained and paid reasonable salaries and courts need to publish their decisions, she said.

The study, which spans the period 1990 to 2004, draws on a variety of sources, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's Legal Indicator Survey, the World Bank's Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Surveys, and the New Democracies and New Russia Barometer surveys conducted by the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

Vladimir Rimsky, a researcher with the Indem think tank, said Russian businesses would not be interested in changing the system because a corrupt court system was more predictable. If businesses go to court over a dispute that is worth more than $150,000 in costs or potential revenues, the decision is likely to depend on who offers the court the larger bribe, he said.