Russia: Strategic litigation leads to law reform

Moscow (Russia) and Budapest (Hungary), 22 April 2011. Five years and five months after MDAC filed a case to test the Russian Federation’s guardianship system, the Russian government has plugged the gaps revealed by strategic litigation. The recent law reform provides procedural safeguards to people with disabilities who find themselves trapped in Russia’s still-archaic guardianship system. The Mental Disability Advocacy Center extends its congratulations to Russian policy-makers and civil society, and encourages further action.

“This is a coming-of-age for the Russian legal system, which now recognises the legal personhood of people deprived of their legal capacity who were previously invisible to the law,” commented Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director. “We encourage the Russian government to follow through and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and ensure that the legal capacity system is reformed in line with the Convention and modern practices. MDAC remains willing to assist and advise the government and civil society on root and branch reform.”

Dmitri Bartenev, MDAC’s Russian attorney who litigated the cases which resulted in this law reform, explained that, “These amendments are limited in scope and do not change the substance of Russia’s deeply-flawed legal capacity system in which people are stripped of legal capacity in all areas of life. However, the law reform is an important step in the right direction as it puts in place safeguards where previously they were lacking.”

The new legislation is analysed here.This law reform is testimony to the tenacity of MDAC and Bartenev’s client Pavel Shtukaturov, the efforts of the coalition of Russian NGOs who have been advocating for reforms in a coalition since 2009, and the potential power of strategic litigation as a tool to prompt social change. As powerful as it may be, strategic litigation can also be painfully slow. Pavel Shtukaturov first contacted Dmitri Bartenev on 2 November 2005 and applications to Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights followed swiftly. In November 2007 MDAC published its report “Guardianship and Human Rights in Russia”. In May 2008 the European Court of Human Rights found a series of violations in his case. In February 2009 the Russian Constitutional Court annulled three areas of law through his case, in March 2010 the European Court ordered compensation in the case. It is now April 2011 – some five years and five months since the first case was filed on behalf of Mr Shtukaturov, and the Russian Parliament has made changes to the Psychiatric Care Act and Code of Civil Procedure.

It has been reported that Russia will ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2012. Given this intention, MDAC encourages the Russian Duma to look into how it can bring legislation and policies on legal capacity in line with Article 12 of the CRPD according to which persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life, and that appropriate measures must be taken to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.

MDAC is currently seeking funding to advocate for and enable further human rights reforms in Russia. For more information about supporting our work please contact MDAC’s Executive Director on MDAC is especially grateful for the vital funds received over the last five years and five months, which has enabled this valuable law reform to be achieved.  Funding has been provided by: the Strategic Programme Fund of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Civil Rights Defenders of Sweden, the Open Society Foundations and Zennström Philanthropies.

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