- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

MOSCOW New criminal and administrative law codes went into effect in Russia yesterday, introducing new protections for defendants and restrictions on law enforcement officials.
The new codes are a key component of Russia's post-Soviet legal reform, which was delayed for more than a decade by political infighting and foot-dragging by prosecutors and others who stand to lose much of their previous domination of judicial processes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin jump-started the reform program, saying the changes would give all citizens equal rights before the law and reduce corruption.
The program is also intended to improve the climate for the businesses that are to be the engine for the nation's economic recovery.
"The goal of this reform is to finally rid ourselves of the atavistic Soviet juridical machine and maximally approach western-standard legal procedure," the Izvestia daily said.
Dating back to the 1960s, the old criminal code was widely criticized for providing inadequate protection for the rights of the accused. Without an updated criminal code, many provisions in the 1993 constitution including the right to trial by jury were honored only sporadically. Now defendants have the option of a jury trial in just nine of Russia's 89 regions.
The new criminal code promises the introduction of jury trials across Russia from Jan. 1, 2003. It also removes some powers from prosecutors, including the authority to authorize arrests, and strengthens the independence of judges who will be the only officials authorized to sanction searches, wire taps and the detention of suspects for more than 48 hours.
Mr. Putin and others stress that the new code, based on the principle of "innocent until proven guilty," shores up the Western-style, adversarial system of justice long elusive in Russia.
"The rules will protect all participants in the [legal] process, no matter who they are: investigators, suspects or defendants," Izvestia quoted legislator and former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov as saying.
The criminal code also recommends forms of punishment other than incarceration a measure that, having been used widely to punish even the most minor crimes, has flooded Russia's prisons.
Russia has the largest per capita prison population in the world, with slightly more than 1 million people in prisons, penal colonies and jails. Cells intended for eight persons are sometimes packed with up to 30, forcing inmates to sleep in shifts on bunk beds. Tuberculosis and other diseases have spread quickly.
"Thanks to the new requirements, the number of arrests will be cut substantially, and we can create normal conditions for people held in pretrial detention," Izvestia quoted Justice Minister Yuri Chaika as saying. He said about 100,000 detainees could be freed this year.
If the new criminal code liberalizes Russian law, the new administrative code makes it tougher by prescribing stiffer fines for driving violations or business offenses, including failing to use cash registers.


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