Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 119

Russia’s State Duma yesterday passed, in its second reading, the revamped Criminal Procedural Code (UPK), which advocates say will reduce the unchecked power of prosecutors and give both more power to lawyers and legal protection to the accused. The measure passed 290-2, winning support from virtually all factions, ranging from the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). It is essentially the handiwork of State Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina, who collaborated with Dmitry Kozak, a deputy Kremlin chief of staff and head of the presidential legal department, to hammer out a compromise version of the revised UPK, which was strongly resisted by top law enforcement officials, including Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov (see the Monitor, June 18). Kozak said that the version of the UPK passed yesterday retained all of the main human rights amendments to the old code and was “an historic step” that “significantly enlarges the guarantees to citizens involved in a criminal case.” The bill must now pass the Duma in a third reading, receive approval by the Federation Council and be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Among the key changes to criminal procedure mandated by the new code is that the power to issue search and arrest warrants will be transferred from prosecutors to the courts as of January 1, 2004. Jury trials, meanwhile, will be introduced throughout the country by January 1, 2003. In addition, the new code stipulates that confessions made by suspects and later retracted can no longer be admitted as evidence–a measure aimed at curtailing the widespread practice coercing confessions out of suspects through beatings. Another change is that defense lawyers will now be allowed to probe the circumstances surrounding a crime–something only police and prosecutors were allowed to do under the old code–by, for example, questioning individuals and bringing in expert witnesses. The new code also permits the victims and the perpetrators of less serious crimes to essentially settle “out of court.” This, according to Mizulina, will free the courts to concentrate on more serious cases (Gazeta.ru, June 20; Moscow Times, June 21).

The new code, however, is not without its critics. Human rights advocates are disturbed, for example, by the fact that under the new code, suspects are read their rights not immediately, upon arrest, but later, during questioning (Polit.ru, June 21). In addition, Sergei Pashin, a former Moscow city court judge, told the Moscow Times that the new code retains a Soviet-era clause stipulating that evidence gathered by defense lawyers will not be admissible unless the investigator accepts it–an unlikely prospect given that, in Pashin’s words, “investigators are invariably on the side of the prosecution.” He also noted that while the right to issue arrest warrants will be transferred from prosecutors to judges, the shift in power is in many ways pro forma given that judges will simply be evaluating whether arrest requests from prosecutors are formally correct, not whether the arrests are necessary. Pashin said that judges currently grant “99.9 percent” of requests to install listening equipment or intercept suspects’ mail, and that the same will happen with arrest warrant requests (Moscow Times, June 21).

Indeed, the judicial and legal reform drive must still deal with the problem of the impartiality and independence of judges. Vladimir Mikhalyuk, a judge in the Zyuzinsky regional court, was quoted yesterday as saying that judges are currently evaluated primarily by the number of guilty verdicts they render and the severity of the punishment they mete out. Court chairmen, he said, view acquittals submitted by their subordinates as negative a priori and reverse them on the slightest pretext. If one judge appears inclined to render the “wrong” verdict, then, according to Mikhalyuk, the case is transferred to another, who renders the “necessary” verdict and punishment and then receives a four-room apartment as a reward (NTV.ru, June 20). Corruption, of course, remains a serious problem. Earlier this year, a weekly magazine ran an interview with an anonymous former arbitration court judge, who said that in cases involving disputes over the ownership of property, judges can receive an “honorarium” equal to 10-20 percent of value of the disputed property for finding in favor of one or the other side–“the higher the court, the higher the rate” (Dengi, April 25).