St Petersburg International Legal Forum, 16-19 May 2012


More than 2,000 delegates from 51 countries took part in the 2nd St Petersburg International Legal Forum in May 2012, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Commercial Court of the Russian Federation.

The forum included a plenary session entitled “Legal policy in the 21st century: New challenges for law in a global context,” 38 roundtable sessions, and several accompanying events, including a conference entitled “Modernisation of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation.” During the forum, a number of legal cooperation agreements were signed between Russia and other countries, including Iceland, the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Chief Justice of the Supreme Commercial Court Anton Ivanov admitted that there are still many problems with the Russian judicial system, but there is visible progress, they said, as witnessed by the St Petersburg Internal Legal Forum itself, which is proof that the Russian government wants to build the rule of law, reform the judiciary, and increase the effectiveness of the judicial system. Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov said that the forum has the potential to become a kind of “legal Davos.”

One topic of discussion was the supposed threat to state sovereignty by judicial rulings and arbitration awards issued in other countries. Medvedev and Ivanov claimed that in many commercial cases, certain countries follow statutory schemes that give preference to the jurisdiction of their own courts, and the rulings by the courts often display the evident influence of politics. They may thus present a threat to the sovereignty of the countries where they are to be enforced, which requires protective measures such as the ability to overturn judicial rulings or arbitration awards from other countries on broader grounds than public policy.

This position was criticised by many participants in the discussion, including Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, the UK’s Secretary of State for Justice, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and Vincent Lamanda, President of the Court of Cassation of France. They likened such views to economic and legal protectionism, hindering international commercial, economic and legal exchange.

Tomasz Wardyński, who represented the Polish Bar Council at the forum, commented: “I believe that the 2nd St Petersburg International Legal Forum was a success. First and foremost, as the name suggests, the forum has become a platform for encounters between Russian lawyers and the rest of the world, where they can share their experiences and views and become better acquainted. Regardless of the opinions expressed at the forum, the forum will no doubt have an influence over the shaping of theoretical solutions and the jurisprudence of the courts in the Russian Federation. This will clearly foster the growth of the rule of law in Russia.”