Russia’s Constitutional Court yesterday struck down four articles of the country’s existing Criminal Procedural Code that permitted the detention of criminal suspects for longer than 48 hours without the permission of a court. Prior to the decision, prosecutors had the right to issue a warrant to hold a person for more than two days.
The ruling came in response to appeals by three people held as a result of criminal investigations for more than two days, which, their lawyers argued, violated their rights as guaranteed by Article 22 of Russia’s constitution. According to that provision, “arrest, taking into custody and confinement under arrest are permitted only on the basis of a court decision.” The obvious contradiction between the statutes from the Criminal Procedural Code and the constitution has existed since 1993, when the constitution came into effect, because of the absence of a law mandating court-issued warrants. And while Russia’s parliament late last year approved a new Criminal Procedural Code specifically stating that only courts can issue arrest warrants, the new code, which comes into effect on July 1 of this year, also stipulates that the provision covering arrest warrants will come into effect only on January 1, 2004. In the ruling it handed down yesterday, however, the Constitutional Court declared that the provision mandating court-ordered arrest warrants must also come into effect on July 1 of this year. It stated that Russia’s parliament must immediately change the legislation covering the new Criminal Procedural Court to ensure that court-sanctioned arrests are obligatory as of July 1 (NTVru.com, March 14; Kommersant, Moscow Times, March 15; see also the Monitor, June 18, 21, July 16, 2001).
Some observers yesterday hailed the Constitutional Court’s decision as a landmark in Russia’s transition away from residual Soviet-era legal norms toward genuine rule of law. Mikhail Bashchevsky, the government’s representative to the Constitutional, Supreme Court and High Arbitration courts, called the decision “a colossal step toward a law-based state,” saying that it will force investigators to produce more credible evidence against suspects (NTV, March 14). Likewise, deputy presidential chief of staff Dmitry Kozak, the Kremlin’s pointman on judicial reform, said the ruling would “give citizens more protection, as there will be an outside control over criminal prosecution” (Moscow Times, March 15).
Others, however, warned that yesterday’s Constitutional Court decision created its own set of problems. Valery Lazarev, the State Duma’s representative to the Constitutional Court, expressed the view of a number of specialists, saying that the decision was “very good from the theoretical, ideal point of view,” but would be hard to put into practice given the lack of funding for the court system and the corresponding shortage of judges in the country. Likewise, Justice Minister Yury Chaika warned that the court system in its current condition would not be able to handle the new case load and said that funds for the hiring of new judges should be found quickly (Radio Ekho Moskvy, March 14). The Kremlin’s plan for judicial reform, which is overseen by Kozak, calls for 3,000 new judges to be hired across the country over the period of 2003-2006 (Moscow Times, March 15). In the meantime, some observers warned, it could be only high-profile suspects who benefit from the new rules mandating court authorization for detentions of more than 48 hours, with overburdened judges simply rubber-stamping requests from prosecutors in all other cases (Polit.ru, March 14).
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