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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Duma to Consider Judicial Reform Package

The State Duma on Thursday is to consider a package of Kremlin-backed legislation aimed at reforming the country's Soviet-era judicial system.

Hailed by supporters as a "revolutionary" step toward justice and criticized as "repressive and anti-democratic" by opponents, the bills -- to be considered in the critical second reading -- deal with the Constitutional Court, the structure of the judicial system and the status of judges. Deputies are also scheduled to vote on the Criminal Procedural Code, which passed a second reading last summer but was sent back for re-examination because it contained some 50 internal contradictions.

Proponents of the bills say the planned overhaul of the judiciary will raise public trust in the courts through such measures as heightening the independence and accountability of judges and expanding the rights of defendants.

Yelena Mizulina, a member of the liberal Yabloko faction and deputy head of the Duma's legislation committee, said the draft laws were comprehensive enough to ensure the "impartiality of justice."

"People intuitively feel that the courts are weak. If they were strong and independent, bureaucrats on all levels would think twice before violating the law or people's rights," she said Wednesday on ORT television.

Some veteran reformers, however, were pessimistic about the legislation.

"The aim of the bills is to ensure the presidential administration's influence on the courts," said Sergei Pashin, a law professor and former judge.

Pashin, who was attacked by fellow judges last year for criticizing their rulings, said this week that the new laws don't do enough to undermine the dependence of judges on local authorities or to decrease the powers of court chairmen. He has also pointed to flaws in the Criminal Procedural Code, saying, among other things, that it continues to place the burden of proof on the defendant rather than the prosecution.

In lobbying for the bills, the presidential administration met with resistance from the tight-knit community of judges, who protested against changes to their maximum terms of office, age limits and degree of immunity from prosecution.