Council of Europe says Russian judges work under pressure
Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger   /  Photo:

Council of Europe says Russian judges work under pressure

24 Jun, 01:44 PM

Russian judges face growing interference and pressure from superiors to rule in favour of prosecutors, a critical report on Russia's justice system from the Council of Europe said Tuesday.

The report, written by former German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, said Russia remains a bastion of Soviet mentality where justice is dictated by the political elite despite laudable reforms on paper.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger's report for the Council's Parliamentary Assembly looked at Russian, French, British and German judicial systems.

Russian justice faces renewed scrutiny following the acquittal this year of three men accused of helping murder Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, and a new trial of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, already serving 8 years.

President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to fight for human rights, battle corruption and end what he called legal nihilism in the court system.

But the cases, the report said, "gives rise to concerns that the fight against "legal nihilism" launched by President Medvedev is still far from won."

"I have found no comparable abuses in any of the three other countries that I have visited and nowhere were violations so severe as in Russia," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in the report.

The document did, however, advise Britain to follow through on planned reforms to raise the Attorney General's accountability before parliament and for France to abolish its examining magistrates.

Some Russian judges, the report said, had taken to ringing their superiors for guidance rather than risk a misstep.

"After an encouraging new beginning in the early 1990s, judges are subjected to an increasing level of pressure aimed at ensuring convictions in almost all cases brought to court by the prosecutor's office," the report said.

"The vectors of pressure still include old-style unofficial methods described as "telephone justice," but also the official performance evaluation and disciplinary mechanisms."

It quoted the head of the Supreme Qualifications Collegium as saying 56 judges were dismissed, a figure the report deemed high given Russian judges' life tenure, and likely to be higher if voluntary resignations obtained under pressure were included.

Among cases of harassment against lawyers cited by the Council report was the detention of Sergei Magnitsky, who helped a prominent investment group, the Hermitage Fund, fighting for investor rights at state corporations.

The report said Russia must boost judicial independence, protect lawyers and promote supervision of the justice system.

US President Barak Obama visits Russia next month and before his trip is likely to face questions from US legislators about Russia's human rights record .


Tags: Russia, law, Dmitry Medvedev, US,

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