The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is the first judicial body of constitutional review in the history of Russia. The Court was created by the Fifth (extraordinary) Congress of Peoples' Deputies of the RSFSR on 30 October, 1991. The Court comprising 15 justices had been anticipated by the amendments to the 1978 Constitution and the Law 'On the RSFSR Constitutional Court' adopted on the basis of the amendments to the Constitution. The Constitutional Court commenced its activities in December 1991. At that time the Congress had selected 13 justices leaving two vacancies.
In its very first decisions, the Constitutional Court confirmed the supremacy of international human rights law, which it applied to validate fundamental rights including guaranteed legal protection of rights and freedoms, the right to be protected against discrimination, each individual's right to possess and dispose of private property, the right of free access to information from the government, etc.
Several decisions have been taken with regard to the distribution of powers between the federal authorities; several others - with regard to the status of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation. The case on the verification of the constitutionality of the acts liquidating the USSR Communist Party and the RSFSR Communist Party, as well as the constitutionality of the parties themselves, has been a matter of great public interest.
The adoption of the current Constitution of the Russian Federation by referendum in December 1993 marked the beginning of a new stage in the development of the constitutional proceedings. The Federal Constitutional Law 'On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation' was adopted in the summer of 1994. The Law has considerably changed the Court's jurisdiction and its operations.
In accordance with the principle of separation of powers, the Constitutional Court, along with all the other judicial bodies, constitutes the third branch of government, which is independent from the other two branches - legislative and executive, and is no longer subordinate to them. At the same time, its legal status is characterized by a number of peculiarities: The Constitutional Court stays apart from the general court system and does not fulfill the functions of either the court of cassation, the court of appeal, or the court of review in relation to the courts of general jurisdiction. It decides cases exclusively on the basis of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The Court limits its considerations to matters of law, it refrains from examination of the facts whenever such activity falls within the competence of another court or another authority. The Court does not consider political cases. The Court establishes its own Rules of Procedure for judicial proceedings.
The competence of the Constitutional Court is provided for in the Art.125 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
The Constitutional Court operates on the principles of collegiality (decisions are taken by a majority vote of present quorum), open access (hearings are open to the press and the public), adversarial nature of the proceedings (parties to a case enjoy equal rights).
The Constitutional Court considers and decides cases in plenary sessions and in sessions of chambers. The Court consists of two chambers comprising nine and ten justices respectively. The decisions of plenary sessions and sessions of chambers have equal legal force. The decisions are final and may not be appealed. The provisions declared to be unconstitutional deemed to be de facto null and void, since the Constitutional Court's decisions require no further confirmation by any other bodies.
Justices deliberate in private and make decisions by a majority vote.
The justice of the Constitutional Court who disagrees with the decision of the Constitutional Court may state his/her dissenting opinion in writing. The dissenting opinion is appended to the case files and promulgated along with the decisions of the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court has evolved to be the true protective body of citizens' rights within the Russian Federation court system. More than ten thousand petitions are filed with the Constitutional Court annually.
The Court, in its decisions, has many times referred to the protection of the following constitutional rights: the right to a fair trial, the right to be protected against accusation and judicial mistakes, the right to vote, the right to strike, the right for social security for elderly citizens, freedom of movement within the country and traveling abroad, the right for dual citizenship, the right to be protected against ecological disasters, inviolability of an individual, rights to private property and freedom of inheritance.
In its work, the Constitutional Court relies on the provisions of international human rights law. This provides an opportunity to implement the democratic rules and standards recognized by the European and world community while resolving cases on the basis of the Constitution. Such an approach is particularly important in connection with the recent accession of Russia to the Council of Europe, which has also given Russian citizens the opportunity to seek protection of their constitutional rights and freedoms also in the European Court of Human Rights.
The Constitutional Court, in its plenary sessions, has exercised its specific authority to interpret the Russian Federation Constitution at the request of top governmental authorities. It has issued 13 rulings on the interpretation of the constitutional provisions in 1995-2000.
The Constitutional Court has also played an important role in the formation of the new relations between the Russian Federation and its constituent entities, ensuring conformity of their constitutions and charters to the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
The prestige of the Constitutional Court as the judicial body of constitutional review is well established. The convincing proof is the adoption of the Russian Constitutional Court as the full member of the European Conference of the Constitutional Courts in May 1996.