Russian Courts Face Limitations Due to COVID-19

March 20, 2020 (Updated April 23, 2020)

Russian courts introduced certain measures to prevent the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread. Affected parties should take these measures into consideration when developing their litigation strategies.

On 18 March, Russia’s Supreme Court and the Counsel of Judges made a joint statement to address measures to prevent COVID-19 spread. Read the 18 March joint statement in Russian. The 18 March joint statement refers to the Federal Law on Sanitary and Epidemic Safety and the Federal Law on Protection of the Population and Territory against Extraordinary Events, as well as various COVID-19-related resolutions and decrees of the Russian healthcare authorities.

On 8 April, a further joint statement was made to alter the 18 March statement. The 8 April statement extends the limitations and provides some flexibility on the restrictions. Read the 8 April joint statement in Russian.

Steps the Courts Must Take

The statements cover six key steps to be applied by every court in Russia, as follows:

  1. In-person meetings in a court must be limited; all submissions must be made electronically or by post.
  2. Courts may consider only a limited number of cases such as (a) urgent cases, e.g., cases concerning arrests, protection of minors, and medical interventions in extreme cases; (b) cases to be considered in a simplified (uproshennoe proizvodstvo) or default (prikaznoe proizvodstvo) format, or (c) cases courts would deem appropriate to consider in the circumstances.
  3. All courts must use videoconference facilities to the maximum extent.
  4. All judges and clerks must proceed with self-isolation should any minor symptoms of illness appear.
  5. Access by third parties which are not parties to the proceedings should be limited.
  6. Such measures originally to remain in force between 19 March and 10 April have been extended to 30 April, and this date may change.

The list of cases which are considered urgent is open. We cannot exclude that requests to impose urgent injunctive measures in a commercial dispute context would also be treated urgent. In any event, as a matter of law, these requests are considered in absentia (without the presence of the parties involved).

Moscow & Saint Petersburg Measures

Some local courts have immediately adopted their implementing regulations and posted them on the websites, such as the Arbitrazh Court of the City of Moscow (Moscow Court) and the Arbitrazh Court of Saint Petersburg and Leningradskaya Oblast (Saint Petersburg Court).

The Moscow Court, the busiest commercial court in Russia, has made further steps and applied, among other things, the following measures:

  • Prohibit the court to accept submission of documents in the court.
  • Allow for docket filing either through the My Arbitr electronic filing system or by post.
  • Hearings will be maintained only on a limited number of cases (being urgent in essence) and on simplified proceedings which do not require hearings as a matter of law.
  • All scheduled court hearings as of 18 March will be cancelled, with new dates to be set later. Currently, hearings are being rescheduled for the end of May or later.

The Saint Petersburg Court indicated that court hearings will be maintained in relation to imposing administrative liability as well as for cancelling the injunctions. The court encouraged its judges and staff, as well as visitors, to wear medical masks and comply with hygiene recommendations.

The joint statements also refer to videoconference facilities. These facilities have limited capacity and will not be available for all hearings (including urgent). The Moscow Court and Saint Petersburg Court do not directly mention videoconferencing among the measures they have been taking.

Impact on Statute of Limitations

There is no law which extends a statute of limitation until the measures are lifted. For example, Russian Civil Code Art. 202 lists situations where the statute of limitations may be suspended; they include extraordinary and unforeseeable events which prevent a party from bringing a claim (force majeure). It is not clear whether these measures could be a valid excuse to claim extension of the statute of limitation in a particular case.

Most likely, such decisions will be resolved on a case-by-case basis. This is because (1) court filings can always be made electronically or by post (and that has already been a customary practice in Russia); and (2) courts can still consider urgent cases, and whether a case is urgent will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Moreover, courts in different regions have taken varying approaches to hearing cases, and in some regions courts continued operating with very little modification (this is especially the case for the general jurisdiction courts, as commercial (arbitrazh) courts appear to have taken protective measures).

On 21 April, the Supreme Court issued guidance covering a number of COVID-19-related matters. Among other things, the Supreme Court confirmed that the statute of limitations will not be affected by the introduced “non-working days” (as they are considered neither holidays nor business days), but in certain cases statutes of limitations could be reinstated due to COVID-19, upon a party’s application.

Additional Resources

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. We also have launched a resource page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts.