Author: Olga Schwartz
Keywords: judicial reform; efficiency of the judiciary; judicial independence; judicial power; simplified (abbreviated process) procedure; plea bargaining; criminal justice
Russian judicial reform that started in 1991 with the adoption of the Judicial Reform Concept Paper by the then Parliament – the Supreme Soviet (Council) of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic – was several times declared completed including by the Supreme Court President Vyacheslav Lebedev but is still ongoing. During those years new waves of reform lost its primary objective of strengthening independence and impartiality of the judiciary and became ever more technical, mostly aimed at decreasing the workload of courts and increasing their efficiency. There is nothing new in such an approach. In many countries similar measures were implemented due to shrinking budgets and heavier workloads but in Russia excessive preoccupation with efficiency almost destroyed the due process, especially in criminal trials where about 70% of cases were resolved without due court hearings because of the plea agreement or cooperation agreement entered into. Plea bargaining is one of the most popular forms of criminal procedure simplification. During last decades the use of plea bargaining by both common law and civil law countries increased substantially. Currently in the US ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the results of guilty pleas. European countries also demonstrate the intention to avoid lengthy and scrupulous criminal procedure rules. Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, when preparing its proposals for member states on simplification of criminal procedure, recommends such order of judicial proceedings where “plea bargaining or similar procedure shall be implemented according to which the offender is to announce publicly if he/she accepts the charges. In such cases the court shall have an opportunity to skip further investigation and move to the consideration of the offender’s personality.” Russian new Criminal Procedure Code adopted in 2001 seems fully in line with this recommendation as it includes the possibility for the defendant to enter into different forms of plea agreement. But although Russian special trial procedure and the plea bargaining are looking similar they substantially differ. In this article we are going to demonstrate how the pursuit for judicial efficiency in Russia led to further deterioration of its judicial system.
About the author: Olga Schwartz – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law, Advisor to the Federal Chamber of Lawyers of the Russian Federation, Moscow, Russia.
Citation: Schwartz O. (2022) Recent Judicial Reforms in Russia: Justice or Efficiency? Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 69–88.
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