Back to the USSR?

The Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court has today cancelled two rulings of respectively the Supreme Court’s Military Collegium and Appeal Collegium regarding the secret and unregistered decree 055 of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

The former ruling was issued on September 12, 2001 nullifying ten provisions of decree 055 from the date of their enforcement (August 10, 1996) because they were normative legal acts affecting the rights and duties of the citizens and thus, had to be subject to state registration. The latter ruling was issued on November 6, 2001 confirming the former decision and giving it legal force.

Appeal from Prosecutor General

The decision of the Presidium came after the Prosecutor General had used his right to have the two previous decisions evaluated by the governing body of the Supreme Court.

In what appears as a cunning plan with the purpose to maintain the legal force of the unregistered and unpublished decree, the Prosecutor General acknowledged that the provisions were normative legal acts affecting the rights and duties of the citizens, but claimed that they should be cancelled from November 6, 2001 when the verdict cancelling the provision reached legal force, and not from August 10, 1996.

The consequence of this position would be that decree 055 would have full legal effect throughout practically the whole period in which it was not registered. Thus, the attorneys of Aleksandr Nikitin, who had successfully challenged decree 055 in the first place, argued that the disputed provisions had to be cancelled from the date of their enforcement.

Mixed up Confusion

It turned out that the Presidium did not approve any of the above-mentioned positions. In stead it chose a third path, cancelling the previous decisions and ruling that the case regarding the validity of decree 055 should be sent back to the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court for a completely new evaluation.

It is not known what lies behind this decision. The Presidium may however have paid attention to the position of the Ministry of Defence, who argued that the decree is not a normative legal act affecting the rights and duties of the citizen and that it thus, is not the subject to state registration and official publication.

If that is the case, the decree would impose no duties for Russian citizens, and violations of it would not imply criminal responsibility. Nevertheless, individuals all over Russia, from St. Petersburg in the West to Vladivostok in the East, have been and are being prosecuted for having violated the provisions of decree 055.

Since the grounds of the Presidium’s decision are not yet known, it is hard to estimate what concrete effect its decision will have for the ongoing cases against Grigory Pasko, Igor Sutyagin and others. At the time being the confusion regarding the validity of decree 055 and whether it is a normative legal act or not, seems however, to be more or less total.