Abuse of rights

Abuse of rights — «злоупотребление правом»  — is based on the notion that an individual or a company may have a perfectly legitimate right but exercise it in such a malicious or antisocial way as to forfeit the right to rely on it.

The original idea came from the relation between neighbours: if, for example, the only source of water in a village goes through one’s own land, one is not entitled to cut off the supply, even in the absence of a servitude right, unless there is a good reason for doing so.

Under Russian law the doctrine — also known as Aemulatio Vicini — is established by article 10 of the Civil Code: «actions of citizens and legal persons taken exclusively with the intention to cause harm to another person are not allowed, nor is abuse of a legal right allowed in other forms».

The problem with this doctrine is its vagueness. Although there is no perfect definition of what exactly constitutes the abuse of rights, the definition of the Russian Civil Code is exceptionally unclear: almost no definition at all. Russian judges seem to like the doctrine. It is widely applied but the rationale of such decisions is not always clear. Many separate wrongs are swept up into the net of the word ‘abuse’. The doctrine has been overworked to a degree that we lost the sense of what it really means.