At the beginning of the 2000s, Nikolay Kropachev, Professor, Doctor of Law, Dean of the Faculty of Law at St. Petersburg State University, became President of the Charter Court of St. Petersburg. He was the first president of this court and had to deal with all the challenges connected not only with the organization of the new legal body in St. Petersburg but also with the establishment of its status.
Constitutional (charter) courts of constituent members of the Russian Federation emerged in the early 1990s as an entirely new kind of judicial bodies, previously unknown in the Russian state system. In 1996, their existence was officially recognized by the federal law on the judicial system, while at the same time leaving the decision on the establishment of such courts to the discretion of constituent members themselves. In St. Petersburg, the provisions for the Charter Court appeared in articles 50 and 51 of the city’s charter adopted in 1998, and a special law was passed only in the spring of 2000. The first composition of the court (7 judges) was appointed in September of 2000. N. Kropachev was elected president of the court at its first sitting, and he headed the court during the whole of its first term — for five years, from 2000 to 2005. The court practically ceased to function before the end of its term, since three judges handed in their resignation 3 months before the actual expiration of their term of appointment after a high-profile case which resulted in the Court recognizing as unconstitutional (not compliant with the Charter of St. Petersburg) the decision of the Governor to establish the governor’s administration. As a result, the court hearings could not be held due to the lack of quorum. Three months later, all these judges were nominated by the Governor for the new composition of the court. The other four judges were not nominated.
During the five years of its work, the Charter Court made a number of difficult decisions (see, for instance, here). The Court, upon requests of citizens, the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, and local government bodies, used legal instruments to solve challenging and pressing issues of the city policy (see, for example, here). Many of the rulings attracted a lot of public attention and became a subject of careful political and legal analysis; they were also much discussed in the media and in scholarly publications.
- One of the most widely-known decisions of the Charter Court was Ruling No 042-П of 2 October 2002, when the Court concluded that the limit of no more than two consecutive terms with regard to occupying the post of the governor of St. Petersburg applied to the then Governor of St. Petersburg V. Yakovlev. The said restriction was established by several legislative acts in 1996, 1998 and 1999. This gave the Governor a reason to claim that the term of office of the governor that started in 1996 should be in this respect considered as not the first term but a “zero” term and that the restriction should only be applied to terms that started after 1999. After examining the statutory documents, the Charter Court found that the restriction in question was set for mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg as early as in 1991 and concluded that the operation of the two-term limit with regard to occupying the post of the governor was not interrupted by the adoption of other legal acts reproducing the restriction.
- In its ruling No 053-П of 7 March 2003, the Charter Court, on the basis of generally recognized principles and rules of international law, concluded that provisions contained in Article 1 (3) of the Law of St. Petersburg No 337-33, aimed at reducing the salaries of persons who hold municipal posts in the municipal entities of St. Petersburg by more than one fourth as compared to the salaries they used to receive before, do not comply with Article 3 (1) of the Charter of St. Petersburg, since they do not guarantee the realization in St. Petersburg of the right of everyone to the continuous improvement of living conditions within the limits of existing resources, deriving from the Constitution of the Russian Federation and enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- Acting as one of the three branches of government at the municipal level, the Charter Court had to resolve disputes between the two other branches, the legislative and the executive, with regard to the limits of their authority. These included, for example, the right of the Legislative Assembly to participate in the formation of the government of St. Petersburg (Ruling No 025-П of 30 April 2002), the procedure of appointing heads of local government authorities (Ruling No 011 of 3 April 2001), and the balance of authority in the legislative process (Ruling No 048-049-П of 24 December 2002).
- The Charter Court set restrictions with regard to the issuance by the Governor of the rules regulating participation of citizens in city-planning decisions (Ruling No 058-П of 26 September 2003), concluding that this does not fall within the statutory powers of the body in question.
- Some of the Governor’s acts were declared to have been issued outside of his statutory powers by a number of other rulings, which addressed for instance the mechanism of making decisions on allotment of land for construction (Rulings No 087-П of 30 July 2003 and No 090-П of 11 December 2003).
- In a number of its decisions, the Charter Court found violations of the Charter of St. Petersburg in cases when the range of powers of the Governor’s Office administration was determined (Ruling No 023-П of 12 February 2002).
- The Charter Court ruled that it was unlawful to establish the administrative committee as an independent executive body in St. Petersburg (Ruling No 082-П of 15 July 2003).
- One of the decisions that attracted a lot of public attention was the ruling of the Charter Court which declared that the establishment of St. Petersburg Governor’s administration by means of renaming the highest body of executive power, the administration of St. Petersburg, was unacceptable (Ruling No 127-П of 14 March 2005).
- The Charter Court was active in protecting the civil rights of citizens. It should not be left unmentioned that the Court declared the rules for registering citizens in need of better housing conditions to be non-compliant with the Charter of St. Petersburg (Ruling No 035-П of 19 July 2004). The Charter Court ruled that the requirement to have a permanent residence address for the period of 10 years as a necessary condition for receiving help with regard to improved housing was discriminatory.
- The right of citizens for protection in the Charter Court was also defended (Ruling No 101-113-П of 20 October 2004); the Charter Court recognized the possibility of appeal not only against laws but also against other legal acts.
- The decisions of the Charter Court also protected pensioners against discrimination, in the case when their right to receive pension supplements depended on the time they went into retirement (Ruling No 026-П of 6 June 2002).
- In some of its decisions, the Charter Court protected the rights of the local authorities in St. Petersburg (Ruling No 012-П of 25 April 2001) and of municipal officers (Ruling No 053-П of 7 March 2003).