Source: hro.org (info), 05/10/10
· Legal Defence
· Human Rights Defenders
Committee against Torture at the OSCE conference in Warsaw
The bias towards the prosecution in Russian courts is one of the main problems of the Russian judicial system and is the root of many problems of law enforcement in general. As a rule, judges are willing to support the public prosecutor in 100 percent of cases, even in those instances where the defendant's guilt is not proven. Such behaviour by judges creates an atmosphere of connivance in the first instance with regard to prosecutors who, mindful of the low bar set for the evaluation of evidence in a case, often become involved in corrupt machinations, including the falsification of evidence, are ready to commit breaches of the Code of Procedural Code and to use torture.
Research conducted by the Committee against Torture in 14 Russian regions found that about 21 percent of respondents said that at least once in their lives they had experienced unlawful pressure by law enforcement agencies.
According to the data of the Institute of Law Enforcement, in 2008 Russian courts handed down approximately one million convictions and the number of acquittals was less than one percent. And it should be noted that the vast majority of acquittals was rendered in cases where the involvement of a public prosecutor in the trial is not obligatory, and de facto prosecutors as a rule do not take part in such cases.
It is clear that as soon as a public prosecutor is involved in a case, the judge’s attitude changes dramatically. And the results of this change are that, for specific groups of crimes, almost all defendants are found guilty.
For prosecutors the internal reporting system and the system of work evaluation is such that each acquittal is regarded as a case lost by the prosecutor. It is considered evidence of the poor quality of his work. There follows a reprimand, which already constitutes a real threat to his career. At the same time, a prosecutor has a number of ways to influence judges in order to prevent them handing down acquittals. First, the prosecution almost always appeals against an acquittal, and every appeal is a problem for the judge who passed the sentence. It is also a problem for the chair of the court, since often such an episode is followed by an inspection, based on the suspicion of corruption.
Moreover, despite the apparent independence of judges from other agencies, prosecutors have the power to assess judges’ performance. Although the authority with the power to appoint or dismiss a judge is the Qualification Board, prosecutors may initiate and carry out inspections on their own initiative. In addition, prosecutors have the unique possibility to screen out judges inconvenient for them before appointment. The prosecutor's office verifies the personal data of candidates for the judiciary given in application forms, as provided to them by the Qualification Board. A negative conclusion may follow. Thus, at present, the prosecutor's office has several effective ways to influence the judicial community.
Given all this, before we demand impartiality and independence from judges, it is necessary to allow them in the first place to make verdicts at their own discretion, aware that the personal consequences for a judge in the event of either acquittal or conviction will be the same. Quite possibly, this would produce a jump in levels of corruption. But to combat such manifestations it is, once again, an independent court system that we need. And this goal cannot be achieved while it is the official, career interests of the public prosecutor that are decisive in deciding the outcome of a case.
The conference is a forum where OSCE participating States and representatives of international and national human rights organizations discuss implementation of the human dimension commitments, adopted by consensus at previous summits or meetings of the Council of Ministers.
This event brings together hundreds of government representatives, experts and human rights defenders in order to take stock of progress made by OSCE participating States in fulfilling their obligations in terms of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The conference is the largest annual gathering on human rights in Europe. The Interregional Committee Against Torture considers that this year the conference will be able to make an important contribution in assessing states’ implementation of their human rights obligations and enable the elaboration of new effective methods to resolve existing problems.
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