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Comparative Criminal Law and Enforcement: Russia

Criminal Procedure, The Criminal Investigation, Fair Trial And Independent Judiciary, The Admissibility Of Evidence

Russia belongs to the continental European civil law tradition although its long history of autocracy and Soviet totalitarianism has left a distinct imprint on its system of criminal justice. Three great historical watersheds have left their imprint on Russian law: (1) the legal reforms of Tsar Alexander II in 1864; (2) the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917; and (3) the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the ensuing period of legal reform aimed at moving to a capitalist market economy, pluralist democracy, and a state under the rule of law and eliminating the worst abuses of the Soviet criminal justice system.

The modern reform movement commenced during perestroika, the attempt to transform the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev (1985–1991). Its goals received their clearest expression in a document entitled the "Concept for Judicial Reform," which was approved by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation on 21 October 1991 and which looked to the 1864 reforms for inspiration. The most important of these goals were: (1) creating an independent judiciary by reducing its dependence on local officials and making it self-governing; (2) introducing adversary procedure and trial by jury; (3) stripping the office of the public prosecutor or procuracy ( prokuratura) of its oversight over the courts and its quasi-judicial powers to order invasions of constitutionally protected rights of the citizens; and (4) strengthening the right to counsel and the rights of defendants to protect against abusive practices by law enforcement organs.

Significant reform legislation was passed by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation in 1992 and 1993 during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. This consisted of amendments to the 1978 Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and, most notably, the Law on the Status of Judges, passed on 26 June 1992, and a law introducing trial by jury, passed on 16 July 1993 ( Jury Law). After Yeltsin's violent dissolution of the Supreme Soviet in October of 1993 and the passage by referendum of the Constitution of the Russian Federation on 12 December 1993, strengthening presidential powers at the expense of a weakened bicameral legislature, the pace of reform slowed but the new lower house, the State Duma, continued to pass significant legislation, most notably, the Law on Operational Investigative Activities, passed on 12 August 1995, the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, signed into law on 13 June 1996, and the Federal Constitutional Law on the Judicial System of the Russian Federation, signed on 31 December 1996. The long-awaited new draft Code of Criminal Procedure, which was presented to the Duma on 3 July 1995 (1995 Draft CCP), and passed first reading, has, as of early 2000, still not made it out of the lower house, leaving the heavily amended 1960 Code of Criminal Procedure of the RSFSR (CCP) in force.

Another important impulse for criminal justice reform in Russia, as in other post-socialist states of Europe, has been its petition for, and subsequent admission into, the Council of Europe, a condition of which was the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights, which took place on 28 February 1996. Article 15(4) of the Constitution gives this treaty, and the other most important human rights treaty, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Soviet Union signed in 1976, priority over domestic law and makes them directly applicable by the courts.


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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law