|Russia scraps right to jury trial
Russia has scrapped the right to trial by jury for people accused of organising violent crime, terrorism and civil unrest.
The Daily Mail | December 11, 2008
The country's parliament voted to back a bill backed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's dominant United Russia party giving three judges the right to rule on cases involving terrorism, hostage-taking, armed insurrection, sabotage and civil disturbances.
The bill will go before Russia's upper house, the Federation Council where approval is expected to be a formality, before it becomes law.
The move came 15 years to the day since the adoption of Russia's first post-Soviet Constitution which reintroduced jury trials abolished by the Bolsheviks in 1917.
Critics said the move raised the spectre of a return to Soviet-style trials controlled solely by judges.
The Soviet court system was notoriously vulnerable to pressures from above and sentences were often dictated via a telephone call from the KGB secret service or Communist party.
Vladimir Vasilyev, who proposed the bill, told parliament: "We want to be sympathetic people, moving towards democracy but I don't want to see terrorists going free."
Supporters of the bill said the switch was necessary because some courts in the southern Russia " where unrest and anti-government insurgency has spilt over since the Chechen conflict" were acquitting or being too lenient towards groups suspected of being involved in organised crime.
Violence has been spreading across the region, including a bomb attack and most recently the assassination two weeks ago Vitaly Karayev, mayor of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, as he left for work.
But critics said the move would increase the risk of unfair trials.
Yelena Mizullina, a member of left of centre Fair Russia party, said: "This law is unconstitutional. This bill does not protect the rights of citizens."
Allison Gill, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said that although there was no internationally protected right to a jury trial, the move raised concerns," she said.
"Special procedural rules for trying terrorism and other such cases tend to result in reduced rights for defendants.
"The courts in every case should do their job and that job is to give a fair trial and not simply to convict. We do not see why a court with a jury should be less well equipped to handle a terrorism case than any other."
She added: "My main concern in this case is the impulse that we have seen in lots of countries to introduce special procedural rules for terrorism cases."
Jury trials were first introduced in Russia by Alexander II under judicial reforms in 1864 ushered in after the freeing of the serfs three years earlier.
Scrapped in 1917 but reintroduced by President Boris Yeltsin's 1993 Constitution, nine Russian regions have since adopted jury trials, including Moscow.
Recent research shows that Russian juries acquit in nine per cent of cases compared with one per cent of cases tried by judges sitting alone.