Russian Court: Inquisition or Justice?

Usually, while speaking about Russian legislation system’s defects, one first of all mentions corruption. The recent scandal in the city of Kazan, when the plaintiff was blackmailed, again makes speak about this issue. Though Russian legislation system has one more defect which is even more dangerous, for it threatens the whole sense of the process called “justice.” You would be surprised: is blackmailing less dangerous? Of course, corruption is a real harm, though in this sense judges are similar to other functionaries. And I would like to tell you about a special defect of today’s Russian trial practice, which probably could be corrected. Just imagine: some person states Mr. Petrov, the judge, took a bribe from me. Afterwards, everything is confirmed: the judge and his prosecutor were alone, while another witness says he heard about the demand for the bribe and the plaintiff took much money while going to the judge. You would say all the accusations are baseless, for everything could be confirmed with eavesdropping device, marked bank notes and so on. Yes, the situation looks a bit artificial, and any court would not consider the oral accusation to be enough. Though, why sentences are passed everywhere only on the base of oral accusations of obviously interested persons? This looks like Holy Inquisition of the Middle Ages, when it was enough just to say “this woman is a witch” to send her to fire.

Today’s variant of medieval inquisition takes now significant dimensions. If this practice is not stopped today, it will sooner or later influence judges themselves, and any criminal would be able to accuse them of whatever he wants.

But, does the court exist just to realize justice? To separate oral accusations from that ones confirmed with evidence? This is what public expects from the reformed court system of today’s Russia. Why then reality differs from what we want to see?

Let us consider the mechanism which causes this vicious practice. The case comes to the court from investigation, whose task is to expound its version and to present the defendant. If the investigator has nothing except oral accusations, he would say he had no reasons not to trust in the evidence. District court in turn prefers not to dispute with local public prosecutor and confirms his version. Therefore, the true criminal always could point at some other person, who is sent by the legal machine directly to prison. Recently, RF Public Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov in his TV interview to Zerkalo programme noticed a strange thing: within last year, justificatory sentences passed by Russian courts made less than one percent of all sentences, while in European countries, justificatory sentences make 20 percent of all court decisions. I would speculate: either Russian investigation bodies work “perfectly,” or Russian legal machine still prefers rather to sent an innocent person to prison, than to release a guilty one. Moreover, that 0.8 percent of justificatory sentences are rather evidence of the layers’ professionalism, than of the court justice.

So, you should not be surprised with European courts not willingly extraditing criminals to Russia: foreign human rights activists are sure of Russian court not searching for the truth.

Within last year, I, as a journalist, studied Russian legal practice. I was interested in the most massive criminal cases – so-called every day crimes. In this field, money and influence do not play an important role and negative tendencies of legal procedure are more obvious. Sentences based on accusations not supported by evidence became a norm, and they do not excite protest even in lawyers. According to them, the court has become a kind of stamping press.

Just an example. If a girl accuses a boy of a rape, making him marry her or just pay her for the pleasure, these motives are on the surface. Though the court does not take them into accounts. As a result, one of the parts goes to prison and leaves it being an embittered person who is really able to commit a grave crime.

Development of market created one more kind of “exposures,” when the thief who successfully misappropriated somebody’s property accuses an innocent person. And this way works, and the criminal gets accustomed to the thought that he can escape from any situation.

Though the most dramatic thing is murder. I tell you about the case heard in Lenin District of the city of Krasnoyarsk. An average worker, electrician, came to a dump searching for non-ferrous metals. The “hosts” of the dump invited him for a drink. He did not refused, and in exchange for it he presented them his mouth-organ. Next day, one of the “hosts” was found dead. Who is guilty? The company anonymously pointed at the worker, as if that was him who had a knife and killed their friend. The electrician was arrested.

No piece of evidence was found. The accused did not try to escape. He only swore he had had no knife and asked for justice. There was no blood in his overalls’ pocket, where he was said to have put the knife. The only testimony of the fatal thrust was given by the woman from the company, who “saw everything” spite the fact that she had been extremely drunken. The investigation concluded the worker was guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced him to 8 year of imprisonment.

This is the example of the vicious practice, when judges prefer to believe in evidence of obviously interested persons. There is no bribe in this story and no interested judge. The situation looks simply absurd. Hopefully, justice will triumph in the case, for there is Court of Appeal, while the case is under public control. Though, the question is not about this case, but about the whole tendency. Presumption of innocence fixed in Russian constitution is just an unattainable ideal.

The verdict is simple: while Russian legal practice does not show it has overtaken its totalitarian tendency, while the court cannot be really an impartial arbiter, all European courts will refuse to extradite criminals accused of terrorism to Russia.

Pavel Poluyan Special to PRAVDA.Ru Krasnoyarsk

Translated by Vera Solovieva

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