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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Step Toward Justice: Trial By Jury Revived

This week the Russian Federation took an important step when it reintroduced trial by jury into its system of criminal justice.

Jury trial existed in some parts of Russia between 1864 and 1917 and has been reintroduced as a pilot scheme in some regions and for some offenses. As of Nov. 1, in the Stavropol Region, Ivanovo, Ryazan, Saratov and the Moscow Region, defendants charged with serious crimes, especially those which carry the death penalty, will be able to choose trial by jury. On Jan. 1, 1994, the scheme will be extended to four more regions.

The jury will comprise 12 Russian citizens aged between 29 and 70 who are not disqualified by reason of criminal record, disability, or their profession. The judge will decide questions of law but the jury will decide questions of fact and will answer three questions about the alleged crime: Did the act take place, has it been proved that it was committed by the defendant and is the defendant guilty of the crime? The judge can combine these into one question: guilty or not guilty? The jury can decide by a majority verdict, six in favor of an acquittal or 7-5 for a conviction.

There will be other consequential changes in judicial procedure. Judges should become less interventionist and more like referees who explain to the jury the law and their function and ensure that both sides observe the rules. The lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense will have to play a more active role in the proceedings to persuade the jury of the truth of their case, and the defense lawyer will have to become more assertive on his client's behalf than the procedures have so far permitted.

However, the new system will continue to be very like the existing one. When a crime is reported, enquiries will still be made by an investigator who is usually a member of the procurator's office. It is his duty to investigate all aspects of the crime, interview all the witnesses and collect forensic evidence. At this stage there is no distinction between the prosecution and defense case. However, once the investigator has collected enough evidence to charge the defendant, the results of his investigation become the prosecution case. The defense lawyer has no right to interview even defense witnesses but should tender them to the investigator for questioning.

The reforms are intended not only to guarantee a fair trial, but also to strengthen the independence of the judiciary as part of the process of the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, which were all previously subordinate to the party and the state. If they succeed, they will revolutionize the provision of justice and in doing so, underpin democracy and a civil society. We must hope they will succeed.

Marcia Levy, an attorney at Norton Rose, has been practicing law in Moscow for two years.