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Sergei Pashin: Why Trial by Jury is of Great Legal and Cultural Value (Izvestiya)

posted 12 Oct 2017, 01:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Oct 2017, 02:04 ]
20 September 2017


By Sergei Pashin, retired federal judge, professor at the Department of Judiciary of the Faculty of Law at the Higher School of Economics, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights. Sergei Pashin played a major role in the introduction of trial by jury in Russia in the 1990s


Source: [original source: Izvestiya]



Appearing in front of jurors at the trial of trader Stepan Ovsyannikov, the eminent lawyer Vladimir Spasovich said, in a speech based on circumstantial evidence, that from separate marks “outlines form, and from outlines letters form, and from letters syllables form, and from syllables there arises a word – and that word is ‘arson’!”

Here are a few marks from the story of our jury system. 

Reintroduced to Russia in 1993, it gained the support of many lawyers and advocates, and was supported by Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev and the Council of Judges. However, the very next year defence lawyers were forbidden to mention to the jury torture undergone by the defendant during the course of the investigation; in 1999 50.9% of acquittals were annulled (along with only 11.7% of guilty verdicts). With the increase in the number of jury trials, the number of cases heard by representatives of the people decreased.

So, 20 years ago, in 1997, nine regional courts heard 419 cases by trial by jury, while last year nearly 100 courts handled only 217 cases. The number of trials by jury reduced from 51 to 23 during this time, and cases involving mass riots, bribery, and crimes against the judiciary were no longer to be tried by jury. Judicial chiefs complain that high costs and juror absences make it impossible to organise trials. But in Tsarist Russia more than 400 crimes were to be tried by jury, and every year they produced almost 40,000 (!) verdicts.

What does this all come down to? Incompetence? Sabotage?

Sadly, reforms traditionally go hand to hand with counter-reforms in Russia. The fate of jury trials depends on ill-disposed officials who have lost their understanding of this institution. Having received instructions from the president to expand the institution of jury trials, they have already tried to carry out a silent constitutional coup by abolishing it: they planned to replace jury trials where ordinary people independently make a decision with a court where they confer under the guidance of judges – as in Ukraine and Germany. In the heat of the moment, the right to trial by jury has been taken away from women and elderly men.

Meanwhile, trial by jury is not a burden or a concession to civil society, but a great judicial and cultural treasure. It has already given us examples of adversarial justice, where the presumption of innocence is not an empty formula. Supporters and opponents of jury trials alike agree that in such trials the quality of investigation is immeasurably higher – involuntarily, because of the jury’s demand for evidence. The spread of jury trials on a large scale could make it pointless to beat confessions out of detainees, and improve standards among both the judiciary and law enforcement.  [Read more in Russian]


Translated by Anna Bowles

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