My dear friend Rosalie Kramm and I were flattered to be included in a delegation of 37 reporting professionals for the People to People trip to Russia last October. This trip was sponsored by the National Court Reporters Association. The trip focus would be on the Russian judiciary system, but the trip included visits to Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, the Hermitage Art Museum, Peterhof, and the Amber Room at Catherine’s Palace.
When in Russia, do as the Russians. Right? We could spend hours discussing our adventure, but this post will be dedicated to their system of justice and our reporting counterparts. But let us say that the people of Russia are beautiful, the cities are colorful, and girls from California have no business buying fur hats. It also should be noted that vodka can really give you a headache.
With that being said, we learned that judicial reform began in 1991 after the demise of the Soviet Union. Russia has patterned its judicial system after the American federal court system. The new Russian Federation has worked toward establishing a court system that gives its citizens rights to a fair trial and to be protected against accusation and judicial mistakes.
The judiciary consists of three different types of courts: a Supreme Court, a High Court of Arbitration, and a Constitutional Court. The Supreme Court hears general cases. The High Court of Arbitration hears economic dispute cases, including bankruptcy. The Constitutional Court determines the validity of laws passed by the Russian legislature.
Generally, more cases go to trial in Russia than in the U.S. There are no pretrial depositions. A defendant in a felony matter can have his case heard by a judge, a 12-person jury, or a three-judge panel. The government can appoint defense counsel for a criminal defendant. There are no sentencing guidelines.
The judge’s secretary must have a legal degree and three years of legal experience. The secretary would be the closest thing they have to a court reporter. She prepares minutes of the proceedings. Most lawyers and judges were once court secretaries.
The highlight of our professional tour was definitely at the Constitutional Court in St. Petersburg. There are 19 judges appointed to this court which rules on the constitutionality of the 135 articles to the Russian Constitution. Reporters in this court prepare a daily verbatim record from a video feed. While a proceeding is in progress, reporters type one-minute segments. One reporter then ties all the segments together.
We feel that the Russians are truly interested in a fair and impartial judicial system. It still is evolving. And although their reporters use a different method to capture the record, there was still camaraderie and a shared interest, the desire to accurately capture and protect the record.