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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Rewrites Rule On Arrest Warrants

The Constitutional Court on Thursday stripped prosecutors of one of their major rights by striking down legislation allowing suspects to be detained for more than 48 hours without a court ruling.

Under the existing Criminal Procedural Code, warrants for holding people behind bars for more than two days can be issued by prosecutors. While this norm clearly contradicts the 1993 Constitution, which says that only a court can give such a warrant, it has been permitted for the past nine years as an interim measure because there has been no law detailing rules for court-issued warrants.

Last November, the State Duma passed a new Criminal Procedural Code, which finally spelled out that arrest warrants could be issued only by the courts. The new code called for the provision to come into effect Jan. 1, 2004, but Thursday's ruling moves the date up to July 1 of this year, according to Constitutional Court spokeswoman Anna Malysheva.

"Interim measures cannot remain in effect forever," Malysheva said in a telephone interview.

Government officials said the court's ruling would necessitate immediate changes to existing legislation and could put a big strain on the country's overburdened court system.

Justice Minister Yury Chaika said the decision would urgently require extra funds to hire new judges. "The court system is not completely ready to carry out this function," Chaika told Interfax.

The Kremlin's judicial reform program, which included the new Criminal Procedural Code, envisioned a gradual hiring of 3,000 new judges nationwide between 2003 and 2006, Interfax said.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the Duma's legislation committee, said Thursday's ruling created a "critical situation" in the court system and meant that lawmakers would have to revamp legislation as quickly as possible.

The Kremlin's pointman on judicial reform, deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak, welcomed the ruling, saying it would "give citizens more protection, as there will be an outside control over criminal prosecution," Interfax reported.

Last year, when the Kremlin's reform package was being hammered out, prosecutors fought against the provision giving courts control over arrest warrants.

Some media reported at the time that Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov had threatened to resign if his agency lost the right to issue the warrants.

But Leonid Troshin, a spokesman for Ustinov's office, said Thursday that although the ruling would complicate the job of law enforcement officials, his agency could do little to reverse it, as the Constitutional Court's decision is not subject to appeal.

Critics have said prosecutors often abuse their broad rights to authorize arrests and open investigations.

Mikhail Barshchevsky, the government's representative to the Constitutional and Supreme courts, said the change will be a challenge for investigators and will force them to produce more convincing evidence.

"This will be a problem of investigators rather than a problem of judges," he said, adding that funding for hiring at least 500 new judges has been included in the 2002 federal budget.

Barshchevsky also praised the decision for better protecting the rights of suspects. "It's a major step toward a state that respects the rule of law," Barshchevsky told NTV television.