Luzhkov Wants Jury Pool Limits

Moscow's city government is pushing for federal legislation to allow it and the St. Petersburg administration to limit the jury pool for court trials, officials and lawyers said.

The proposal would allow city authorities to compile an initial jury pool list, and then lawyers would pick jurors from that.

It is the latest sign of what defense lawyers, legal experts and civil rights activists say is the erosion of the independence of juries — less than 20 years after the restoration of jury trials.

The proposal is "a profanity on the very idea of jurors," one defense lawyer, Viktor Parshutkin, said Friday.

Under Moscow's current system for jury trials, the city's highest court chooses a potential jury pool of up to 80 citizens.

From that pool, defendants and prosecutors agree on 18 jurors and alternates.

A City Hall official said Friday that Mayor Yury Luzhkov sent a letter earlier in the week to the State Duma asking that the authorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg be allowed to compile the initial jury pool list. The official asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"Passing these amendments will guarantee the appropriate functioning of the judicial system," the letter said, according to the official.

It was unclear when the Duma would discuss the proposal, but several deputies from the Kremlin-backed United Russia, which holds a strong majority in the Duma, said they supported Luzhkov's proposal.

"The mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg ought to have the right to create lists of jurors," said Oleg Valenchuk, who introduced the measure in the legislature.

Jury trials were banned by the Bolsheviks in 1917 but were reintroduced in 1993 in a signature reform of the post-Soviet era.

But legal experts say they have been weakened in recent years by a criminal justice system compromised by rampant corruption and official pressure.