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Russia judicial reform urged by Council of Europe

[JURIST] The Council of Europe (COE) [official website] on Tuesday urged substantial reforms to correct systemic problems in the Russian legal system, including the prevalence of political prosecutions and a lack of judicial independence. A report [text, PDF] presented by COE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights member Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger [official profile] addressed politically-motivated legal abuses in the dominant European legal systems, focusing largely on Russia's shortcomings in combating "structural defects that lead to the accusation and conviction of many innocent persons" within the country. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that the cases against former Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive] executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and international investment firm Hermitage Capital [corporate website], as well as the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], were "emblematic" of the "legal nihilism" of the Russian system, including pressure on judges to convict, intimidation of defense lawyers and restrictions on jury trials. The report urges Russia to increase judicial independence by ensuring that judges are not evaluated on the basis of their judicial decisions and altering the system for allocating cases to particular judges, and "to effectively protect defence lawyers from searches and seizures of documents pertaining to the privileged lawyer-client relationship" and other forms of harassment.

Earlier this month, Khodorkovsky called [JURIST report] for "preventative judicial reforms," saying that putting an end to corruption and political pressure should be a governmental priority. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized [JURIST report] amendments signed into law in January by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile], allowing trials for treason and terrorism to be adjudicated without juries [JURIST report]. Medvedev himself acknowledged the need for judicial reform [JURIST report] in December, saying that transparent courts would restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from seeking redress in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website].

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