Constitutional Court permits civil servants to speak out publically

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The Russian Constitutional Court has ruled that civil servants have the right to publicly comment on work-related activities, but only under exceptional circumstances.

­According to a court statement issued on Thursday, Russian civil servants can publicly report on rights violations and express their opinion on important issues.

The court has checked the laws governing the conduct of both civil servants and police, consequently ruling that public statements were permissible if they were neither excessive nor arbitrary. This limits the themes of such statements to private opinions and reports about violations committed by the colleagues of civil servants. In both instances, the authors of the comments cannot be punished or fired for their stated positions.

The Constitutional Court had to step in to arbitrate legal battles surrounding two recent events – the sacking of a policeman from the central Russian city of Togliatti and a tax inspector from Moscow. The head of a district police station lost his job for posting a video address directed at the president on the internet in which he criticized the city police directorate. The Moscow tax inspector said in a television interview that her agency was using the improper methods when calculating travel allowances. A short time later the inspector said that her bosses had tried to force her to resign from the state service, whereby she turned to the courts for help.

The constitutional court ordered retrials in both cases, with special consideration to be given to the results of Thursday’s ruling.

The Constitutional Court allows for justifiable criticism, but the verdict also stressed that the civil servants must be responsible when making public statements. It said that the statement must be factually-based and properly formulated, adding that in some cases the public interest can supersede the civil servants’ obligations to maintain professional discretion.

However, the court ruled that the current laws regarding the civil service and police must remain unchanged. The judge in the case, Yuri Rudkin, said that the contested norms did not contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation as they did not contain an absolute ban on civil servants expressing their personal opinions, nor does it provide for the automatic firing of state servants who publically express their opinions or beliefs. “In the course of deliberations, we tried to maintain a proper balance,” the judge said.

At the same time, one of the most publicized authors of another video address who strongly criticized the actions of his superiors, former police major Aleksei Dymovskiy, has said that the ruling of the Constitutional Court was unlikely to bring any practical changes to Russian life and politics. At the same time, Dymovsky called the court decision a big step forward. Dymovskiy, who had posted a video on the internet addressed to Prime Minister Putin, spoke about the various abuses committed by the police directorate in the city of Novorossiysk where he had previously worked. After the address was made public, the major was fired and charged with slander. A local court found him guilty and ordered him to pay monetary compensation to two police officials who had filed the defamation lawsuit.