Russian Justice: An Oxymoron?

In 2008 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke proudly of Russia’s independent judiciary and its adherence to the rule of law. It was poppycock then and remains so now.

Russian justice is actually frightening and those honest men and women who sit as judges may be sacrificial lambs. The latest in a long line of slain judges is Justice Eduard Chuvashov, who presided over a high-profile murder case in 2010 where the accused “skinheads” were charged with the racially motivated murder of eleven migrant workers. The teenage defendants were found guilty by Judge Chuvashov and sentenced to prison for up to 23 years.

Shortly after sentencing, the Judge was gunned down by an assassin’s bullets in the stairwell of his home in Moscow. Unusual? Not really. The murder of judges is commonplace and in 2006 alone there were 310 attacks on judges.

So how do Russian judges avoid retaliation by criminal groups? It is no secret that the judiciary is afraid to levy long sentences on criminals for fear of recrimination from their compatriots. The sentence in Judge Chuvashov’s skinhead case is a good example. A maximum of 23 years for the murders of eleven innocent victims?

If a judge speaks out against the policies of the executive branch of government, his career is over. Two Russian constitutional judges were forced to resign after an interview with a Spanish newspaper recorded one judge’s statement that Russia’s legislative bodies were “paralyzed”. The second judge supported the first judge’s comments, but also criticized the government’s refusal to examine recent cases including the unreasonable fraud conviction of Russian billionaire Mikhail Khordorkovsky and the punitive deportation of Russian investigative journalist Natalia Morari, who reported on massive government corruption.

But it is not just the judiciary who suffer from Russia’s highly politicized justice system, it is also the victims of crime. Since 2000 nineteen journalists have been murdered, but there has not been one prosecution. Recent changes in the law provide that persons accused of crimes against the state may not have a jury trial. The sole arbiter of their alleged crimes are Russian judges who are servants of the government.

Is there any good news? Russia’s chief justice recently directed that all judicial decisions be made available to the public commencing July 1, 2010 and Russia’s judges are presently lobbying for Court TV so that all court proceedings be broadcast to promote openness and transparency.

We’ll see.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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