Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 117

On June 20, the Russian State Duma will take up a package of amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code (UPK) in its second reading. Combined, the amendments amount to a complete overhaul of the UPK that, if passed into law, would change Russia’s criminal procedure from what one observer has called the “inquisitional” Soviet model currently followed to one similar to those found in Western countries. (To become law, a proposal must be approved by the Duma in three readings, then by the Federation Council and finally by President Vladimir Putin.) The changes to the criminal code were drawn up by a working group headed by Yelena Mizulina, deputy chairman of the Duma’s legislative committee, who recently left Yabloko for the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS). Mizulina’s group has worked closely with Dmitry Kozak, a deputy Kremlin chief of staff.

At the heart of the amendments are measures that would reduce the power of the Prosecutor General’s Office and its various subdivisions by transferring the right to issue search and arrest warrants from prosecutors to the courts. The Russian constitution formally gives the courts the right to issue such warrants. The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, has exercised that right de facto and there is immense resistance within the law enforcement establishment to changing the status quo. Indeed, the Kremlin introduced legislation earlier this year reaffirming the courts’ constitutional rights to issue warrants, but quickly withdrew it, reportedly after a group of top law enforcement officials threatened to resign (see the Monitor, January 30). Since then, the Kremlin has reaffirmed its support for the changes, and while some senior law enforcement officials continue to oppose it–late last month, Prosecutor General Dmitry Ustinov denounced what he called “rushed reforms”–the legislation is likely to pass. It will be followed by amendments to existing laws on judges and courts, lawyers, and the Civil Procedural and Arbitration Procedural codes, with the overall aim of limiting the broad powers prosecutors currently enjoy, thereby giving lawyers greater leeway and protection from outside pressure and, concomitantly, greater legal protection to defendants (Polit.ru, June 15; Moscow Times, May 23; Novaya Gazeta, April 16).

The Kremlin has made one concession to the Prosecutor General’s Office. Late last month Putin decided to postpone for at least a year the creation of a Federal Investigation Committee (FSR), which would take over the criminal investigation functions currently carried out by the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service. The move is reportedly strongly opposed by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the tax police (Polit.ru, May 24-25).