Russia Legal Profile

Proelium Law LLP

Russia Legal System Overview

Russia is a Federal Constitution with 89 federal subjects,[1] each of which are given a certain degree of autonomy over their economic and political affairs.[2] The Russian Federation has a civil law system,[3] which is code-based and has a judicial review structure that closely mirrors that of Western European civil law countries.[4]

The Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted by a national referendum in 1993 and is comprised of a single written document.[5]  It declares that Russia is a democratic, federative, law-based state with a republican form of government.[6] The Constitution has supremacy throughout the territory,[7] and “supreme judicial force” with which all other laws within the Federation must comply.[8] The Constitution provides that State power shall be exercised based on a division of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The Law on the Status of Judges supplements this and provides that any interference with the judiciary’s independent administration of justice shall be prosecuted.[9]

The President of the Russian Federation is the highest executive authority. The President is elected for a six-year term and the same person must not be elected for more than two terms.[10] The current President is Vladimir Putin.

The President has a number of roles, and his key duties are: to protect the sovereignty, independence and state integrity of the Russian Federation; to ensure interaction of all state bodies; to determine the direction of domestic and foreign policies; and act as the Russian Federation’s ‘figure head’, representing the country.[11]

The President also appointments the Prime Minister and other Federal ministers (following consultation with the Federal Council of the Federal Assembly), including those of the collegial executive body.[12] The President can also dismiss the government and Prime Minister as well as confirm the resignation of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Federal Ministers and heads of the federal executive bodies. He is also commander-in-chief of the military forces and has the power of legislative veto. However, the Parliament, via a majority vote, can impeach the President.[13]

The Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (otherwise known as the Parliament) is Russia’s legislative body. It consists of two chambers: the Federation Council and the State Duma.[14] Judicial power is held by federal judges, and judges of the regional courts, which appointed by the President and the local authorities, respectively.[15]

The Constitution provides for the recognition and protection of human rights in Chapter 2 and all political, economic, social and cultural rights within Universal Declaration of Human Rights are also protected.[16] Chapters 1 and 9 of the Constitution stipulate fundamental constitutional principles, as well as set out the procedure for amending the Constitution.[17] That said, Amnesty International as well as Human Rights Watch claim that Russia is not democratic and, in practice, allows very few political rights and civil liberties to its citizens in spite of these constitutional guarantees.[18]

The Russian Civil Code is the key source of law for business and many common international commercial concepts are recognised and widely used in Russia. These include: the conditional performance of obligations; reimbursement of losses; and new forms of civil law contracts, such as options, framework agreements and subscription agreements.[19] 

The Russian legal system is comprised of a number of different courts. The courts of general jurisdiction are: Magistrates’ courts and district courts; courts of the regions (appellate); courts of the regions (cassation); and the Supreme Court. The various commercial courts include: the commercial courts of the regions; the commercial appellate courts; the district commercial courts (cassation); and the Supreme Court. There are also several specialist courts, including: the Court for Intellectual Property Rights and Military Courts.[20] Constitutional Court case law binds all courts, state agencies, legal entities, and individuals. Supreme Court judgments are also binding on the lower courts.[21]

International conventions are deemed to be an integral part of the Russian legal system. However, no international treaty can contravene the Constitution, including decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.[22] Presidential executive orders, decrees of the Russian Government, and the decisions of various ministries are used to support and develop the provisions of primary legislation,[23] and these are passed without judicial review.[24]

The legal system adheres to all principles of the adversarial system, i.e., oral judicial proceedings, publicity and directness.[25] The judges are impartial adjudicators, but can participate actively in the legal proceedings, can interrogate witnesses, can engage experts in the legal proceedings, and can assist the parties in gathering evidence.[26] The Constitution requires that everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty,[27] but Russian legislation does not establish a standard level of proof. Evidence is examined by the court on the basis of its inner conviction.[28] This may lead to inconsistent outcomes for parties.

Despite the established Constitution and apparent commitment to the separation of powers, there are reports that in practice, Russia has a weak justice system with a lack of respect for the rule of law and civil society.[29] It is also claimed that the legal system is commonly used to harass and control people as opposed to protecting them.[30] Further, a number of factors work to undermine the apparent commitment to the separation of powers, particularly the independence of the judiciary.[31] These include: a lack of understanding of judicial independence by judges due to their knowledge being rooted in the legacy of the Soviet system; judges being prone to undue influence from the executive; and the lack of transparency regarding the appointment and promotion processes for the judiciary which do not safeguard against promotion or appointment for improper motives.[32]

Vladimir Putin has used these failures within the Constitution to enhance his powers and dominate the government, particularly through the use of the judiciary. This is seen through the appointment of Federation Council members loyal to him.[33] What’s more, despite the constitutional guarantee of a separation of powers, Russia has rejected recommendations put forward during the course of the Universal Period Review of its human rights record to put in place an independent appointment, promotion, transfer and dismissal of judiciary mechanism.[34]

Since Putin’s re-election as President, there has been tightened control over the media and Russia’s authorities have been quick to pre-emptively strike any opposition.[35] Russian TV is dominated by state-owned channels with close links to the Kremlin and Russian authorities have recently extended their control over online sites to curb the influence of global internet giants.[36] The Economist Intelligence Unit has also ranked Russia as an “authoritarian regime” in its Democracy Index, ranking it 124th out of 167 countries for 2021 and was also ranked as the lowest European country in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index for 2021.[37]

The Russian Government has been widely criticised for its crackdowns on political opposition, protests, and killings of independent journalists and mass censorship.[38] This corruption is nothing new, and features in much of Russia’s history and has a major impact on many sectors, including business, education, and law enforcement.[39]

However, Putin does have the benefit of public support, which is bolstered by his presentation of himself as a strong leader who rescued Russia from the economic, social and political crisis of the 1990s, as well as defending Russia from alleged hostility in the Western world.[40]  

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[1] ibid.






[7] Federal Constitution, art 4(2) (cited here:

[8] ibid art 15(1) (cited here:

[9] Law on the Status of Judges of the Russian Federation, art 10(1) (cited here:


[11] ibid.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.


[15] ibid.


[17] ibid.



[20] ibid.

[21] ibid.

[22] ibid.

[23] ibid.



[26] ibid.

[27] ibid

[28] ibid.


[30] ibid.


[32] ibid.

[33] ibid.

[34] ibid; see Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the Russian Federation, Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review, UN Doc. A/HRC/24/14/Add.1 (2 September 2013), para. 25-26.


[36] ibid.


[38] ibid.

[39] ibid.


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