Prosecutor General blocks legal reform

Publish date: February 12, 2001

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

For the second time in a few weeks an attempt at reforming the outdated Russian Criminal Procedure Code is blocked.

In December 2000 the Duma passed a law proposal in order to shorten the time a person can be held in pre-trial detention from 18 to 12 months. According to St. Petersburg Times, the reform would have reduced the Russian prison population with more than 200,000, of which most are charged with petty crimes. The decrease would first and foremost have taken place in overcrowded jails, where tuberculosis and other diseases are rampant.

“Dangerous consequences”

However, on the eve of the handling of the proposal in the Federation Council (the upper house of the parliament), Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov sent a letter to the speaker of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroyev, urging him to block the bill’s passage.

Moreover, Ustinov’s deputy Sabir Kekhlerov came to the Council to lobby against the bill in person, claiming that it was “fraught with dangerous consequences for society”. Last September Kekhlerov appeared for the prosecution in its attempt on getting the Supreme Court Presidium to cancel the acquittal of environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin. Then he came out on the loosing side, but apparently he had more success this time.

A spokesman of the Prosecutor General’s Office also pointed out that the bill would have led to the release of 350 individuals charged with murder, rape or banditism. Alexander Urmanov, aide to Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the Duma’s legislative committee, characterised these arguments as “very deceitful”, since the limits on detention would not have affected persons arrested before the new legislation had entered into force.

Human right violation

The bill is the second piece of legislation aimed at reforming the Soviet-era Criminal Procedure Code, that has been blocked in a couple of weeks, because of interference from the Prosecutor General. The first would have required arrests, imprisonments and searches to be sanctioned by a court.

Consequently, a Russian prosecutor can still put anyone he wants behind bars, no court can control his judgement, and the person in question can be held under appalling conditions for months and even years before the case is brought to trial. This state of the law is obviously a blatant violation of the Russian Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and a number of other human rights treaties signed by Russia.

According to Urmanov the Duma will probably not try to pass the bill again: “Nobody likes to fight”. Thus, the rule of law in Russia, which presence was saluted after the acquittal of Nikitin, seems to vanish in the distance – at least for the time being.

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