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11 E. Eur. Const. Rev. 125 (2002)
The Two Faces of Russian Courts: Evidence from a Survey of Company Managers

handle is hein.journals/eeurcr11 and id is 125 raw text is: The Two Faces of Russian Courts: Evidence from a Survey
of Company Managers
Timothy Frye

Rule-of-law reform will succeed only if it gets at the
fundamental problem of leaders who refuse
to be ruled by the law.
-Thomas Carothersl
ver the last several years, various observers
have vigorously debated the performance of
courts in Russia. Some scholars, such as
Kathryn    Hendley, Peter     Murrell, and     Randi
Ryterman, argue that the courts in Russia operate
reasonably well, particularly in comparison to courts in
other countries.2 They find that Russian business
managers are about as likely to go to court as they are
elsewhere and argue that once one adopts a more real-
istic standard for performance, courts in Russia do not
fare badly. In short, law matters in Russia.
Others, particularly those in the popular press
and policy world, have a dim view of courts in Russia.
They argue that the system is plagued with unqualified
judges, corruption, and political interference at all
levels. Moreover, they note the court system is a signif-
icant drag on the economy. As President Vladimir
Putin told parliament in April 2001: We badly need
judicial reform today. The country's judicial system is
lagging behind real life and is not very helpful in
carrying out economic transactions. Not only for
entrepreneurs but also for many people who are
seeking to restore their rights in law, the courts have
not been quick, fair, and impartial.
This essay presents a slightly different perspec-
tive on the debate. Based on the results from a survey

of 500 firms conducted in Russia in November 2000,
it shows that the perceived performance of the arbi-
tration (arbitrazh) courts depends significantly on
whether the cases involve private or state agents.
Company managers expressed a fairly positive view
of the work of arbitration courts in adjudicating
conflicts with other private entities but had far less
confidence that the courts would protect their rights
in conflicts with state officials. They expressed
considerable skepticism that decisions against local or
regional governments could be enforced, and many
believed that state officials put pressure on the arbi-
tration courts. Thus, Russia faces the critical problem
of creating judicial institutions that allow, indeed,
encourage, government officials to make a credible
commitment to abide by the rule of law.
The survey
Assessing the performance of court systems is tricky.
Doing so, when cases involve state agents, is doubly so.
For example, reviewing the rate at which private citi-
zens win cases against the state can be misleading if
citizens only bring to court cases of the most egregious
violations of their rights. The significance of win rates
can also be difficult to interpret if citizens are especially
reluctant to challenge the state in court.
Reviewing the total number of cases against the
state raises similar problems. Citizens may bring more
cases to trial because of arbitrariness by the state rather
than because of the strong performance of the courts.

WINTER/SPRING 2002                                                                                                125

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