Putin withdraws legal reform

Publish date: January 23, 2001

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

President Vladimir Putin halts a long overdue criminal procedure reform. Liberals fear the move is a result of pressure from security forces wishing to maintain their right to make arbitrary arrests.

Deputy head of the Kremlin administration, Dmitry Kozak confirmed on January 22 that Putin had withdrawn amendments proposed to the Criminal Procedure Code that would have required searches and arrests to be approved by courts rather than by prosecutors. Such a reform is considered a key factor in order to uphold the Russian democracy.

The amendment would have brought the Criminal Procedure Code, which dates back to 1960, in line with the 1993 Constitution. According to the latter, a court’s order is required to search a person’s home, and also to keep him in detention for more than 48 hours.

No court order needed

The current Criminal Procedure Code gives full control over searches and arrests to investigators and prosecutors, a fact that Russian environmentalists have learnt to know. The FSB investigators were for instance not required to go to court before they searched Aleksandr Nikitin’s flat in October 1995, and they did not have to get a court order when Nikitin was arrested four months later. Nor did they have to get such orders when Grigory Pasko was arrested in November 1997. Moreover, prosecutors can on an arbitrary basis keep a defendant in jail for more than a year before the case goes to trial.

Thus, the system clearly violates the constitution and legal experts consider the reform as long overdue. “This is a big step forward,” said Vladimir Mironov, a former Moscow City Court judge, to Vedomosti. “No longer will the first person to come into contact with a suspect – and that person is not an unbiased party – decide his fate.”

While Kremlin sources told Interfax that the withdrawal was based on technical, economical and organisational reasons rather than a new policy direction, liberals fear that the decision to stop the changes was a result of pressure from top security officials. “The president has shown his dependence on security structures”, Viktor Pokhmelkin of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) party told Reuters. At a human rights conference on January 21, State Duma Deputy Sergey Yushenkov said that the Prosecutor General, the Minister of the Interior and the head of FSB had put pressure on the Kremlin to recall the bill.

Reform may still be in the coming

A source in the prosecutor’s office complained to Vedomosti that the reform would complicate criminal investigations and that courts would not be able to handle the burden of work. Vladimir Mironov rejected the suggestion that judges were too busy to deal with arrests and searches. “I don’t believe that judges are overburdened. I know the situation in the courts”.

Whether the reform will take place or not is now in the blue, although Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the Duma’s legislation committee, told Interfax that it still could be passed as part of the second reading of a new Criminal Procedure Code later this year.

It may be added that even if the Duma was deprived of the possibility to approve a long awaited criminal procedure reform, it is by no means paralysed. Last week it appointed its Deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky as an “Honourable Lawyer”. Zhirinovsky may give the impression of a buffoon, but he is actually considered as an extremely capable legal reformer, reports Gazeta.Ru, and points out that Zhirinovsky last fall suggested a Bill that would allow Russian males to enjoy the pleasures of polygamy.

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