Russian juries here to stay, say experts

RUSSIAN law experts have rejected press reports which claim a scheme testing jury trials in the country is to be abandoned.

The reports, which emerged from Moscow last week, said President Boris Yeltsin's two-year-old experiment reintroducing juries in a handful of the country's 89 regions had been largely unsuccessful and plans to expand the project were “grinding to a halt”.

But Alexander Malik, Moscow-based vice-president of the Guild of Russian Lawyers, said the system had thrived before being banned by the Bolsheviks in the early 1900s and today “the plant is just taking root” again.

“Russia has forgotten the institution of juries,” said Malik. “They existed up until 1917 and now that they have been revived they are looked at as a progressive phenomenon.

“This is something which should not only be revived and brought to life, but something which is very close to Russia.

“It had been one of the institutions of Russia which was well accepted and liked in the past, so I stay hopeful.”

Malik said much of the reaction reported in the press had resulted from the public's need for information and the community needed to be educated about the benefits of juries.

“Legal education and training is something which takes time,” he said.

Secretary of the Law Society's criminal law committee Roger Ede, who has worked with representatives of the Russian legal profession on projects to improve legal knowledge in the country, said he believed the pilot project had been a success and it was unlikely plans to expand it would be dropped.

He said three groups of senior Russian lawyers had visited the UK to observe jury trials, and laboratories to examine the issue had been established in Russia as a result.

“The Russian lawyers I've spoken to have all said that as far as they're concerned the experience was a success,” said Ede.

“Above anything else it's a democratic move and it gives the people the power to decide guilt or innocence instead of the judge. It makes it possible to hold back any abuse by the state when it comes to prosecuting members of the public.”

Ede said discussions with Yeltsin adviser Dr Sergei Pashin, head of Russia's justice reform department, showed the government saw the introduction of jury trials as “the most important part of the reform of the Russian legal system”.