The scale of Russian interference in the English judiciary is such that it now constitutes a “critical national security threat” according to prominent QC, Ben Emmerson.
The remarks come in the foreword to a report on Russian interference in European judicial systems. The report concludes that the Kremlin has, on occasions, “turned [Western] judiciaries into tools of Russian foreign policy”. It goes on to say that “the UK judicial system has a particular importance to Putin and his cronies” and has become “a frontline in Putin’s… campaign against critics and opposition figures”.
In a statement today, Bill Browder, the Kremlin-critic and Magnitsky laws campaigner, also warns that English courts may not be “able to offer protection [to critics of the Russian state] from Kremlin-backed lawfare”.
Emmerson’s remarks warn that the UK government’s responses to this threat “do not begin to go far enough”. Emmerson claims that the Russian state has placed “blatant lies, forged documents, and utterly implausible explanations” before European courts.
Ben Emmerson QC has represented a series of the Kremlin’s foes in proceedings across Europe including Marina Litvinenko, Bill Browder, and the states of Ukraine and Georgia.
International arrest and extradition powers are highlighted as being particularly vulnerable to Russian misuse, a problem Ben Emmerson QC warns will “rise significantly” following Brexit.
Arguing an urgent policy response is required, the report recommends:
- That the Foreign Affairs Select Committee should hold an inquiry into how Russia abuses the international legal system.
- Enact a statutory duty to issue judges with political guidance on the validity of Russia’s justice system.
- Introduce a “strong presumption” against Russian state entities in cases before the courts.
The report, entitled Russian Kleptocracy and the Rule of Law: How the Kremlin undermines European Judicial Systems, considers six cases of Russian judicial interference in Europe and assesses the risks posed to the British judicial system.
In separate remarks over the weekend, the report’s author warned that Russian figures, abetted by “pin-striped enablers” in legal firms, are exploiting courts in Europe to launder money out of Russia.
Dr Andrew Foxall, the report’s author, identified cases brought by Russian entities that are nothing more than elaborate ruses in which both parties conspire to game the courts in a money laundering exercise. He claims that it is “questionable” whether law firms are “taking their duties as seriously as they might”.
Ben Emmerson QC commented:
“Now that the election is over, I very much hope that the Prime Minister will move swiftly to release the report prepared during the last Parliamentary session by the Intelligence and Security Committee following its investigation into Russian interference in the political institutions of this country. But it is equally vital to raise awareness about Russian manipulation of international judicial systems, including our own. It is all part of the same strategy of covert asymmetrical operations aimed at destabilising the institutions on which Western democracies depend.
The threat level will rise significantly as the UK leaves the European Union, and no longer has direct access to Europol. It will be necessary for UK law enforcement to place much greater on Interpol, an organisation which has so far shown itself to be exceptionally vulnerable to political abuse by Russian state authorities, and others.”
Bill Browder commented:
“The Kremlin pursues its enemies through every available means, including by exploiting Western legal processes. Like many others, I rely on independent courts to protect me from routine attacks. Yet, a troubling pattern of interference means that it is questionable whether English courts are able to offer protection from Kremlin-backed lawfare.”
In the words of the author:
“While there is broad recognition that the Kremlin seeks to undermine European political systems, there is far less understanding of the extent to which the Kremlin also seeks to undermine European judicial systems. Yet, Russia has undermined the rule of law in European states and multilateral treaty organisations for at least the last decade and in ways that further its own interests. In essence, European courts have, on occasions, become tools of Russian foreign policy.
Because of the centrality of the UK to the Kremlin’s campaign against its critics and opponents, the Government needs to recognise the gravity of the situation. A first step would be to launch a Parliamentary inquiry into Russia’s manipulation of international judicial systems as part of the Kremlin’s broader efforts to undermine the rules-based international order.”
-Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of Research, Director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre, at the Henry Jackson Society.