Will terrorists be tried by jury?


MOSCOW. (Andrei Vavra for RIA Novosti) - The State Duma has passed amendments to the Criminal and Criminal Procedure codes of Russia.

The amendments rule out a trial by jury when considering special criminal cases: terrorism, hostage taking, organization of unlawful armed formations, mass disturbances, high treason, spying, forcible seizure of power, armed mutiny, and sabotage.

Is this good or bad?

Arguments both for and against are plenty. Pro-democratic public opinion, for example, is protesting, believing it is another step to curtail and limit democracy in Russia. A trial by jury is admittedly a democratic institution. Many civilized nations practise it. Russia is a democratic country. So it means that ...

It means nothing.

A jury acquitted Vera Zasulich, a died-in-the-wool terrorist in tsarist Russia. In our times recently, a jury found a terrorist innocent who later took part in seizing the school in Beslan (such absurd rulings by a jury are not few and far between).

Now professional judges will try those accused of terrorism and other grave crimes: those who know better than the man in the street. It follows then that ...

But nothing follows.

The powers of a jury are being limited at a time of sharp and justified criticism of the country's judiciary.

I quote the president: "It seems the law affords all possibilities - procedural and material - for a court of law to be independent. Proceeding from statutory law, from what is written in acts and decrees, this shouldn't be a problem. But why is a judge, who is independent in theory, not independent in fact? And why do his decisions move away from the objective when considering a case?"

Vladimir Vasilyev, chairman of the State Duma's security committee, the bill's author, must have had this in mind when he said "the number of terrorist acts has shrunk by many times since 2005. Still the situation is so serious that prompt measures need to be taken. We do not have it easy. And it is not that I am fully satisfied with this approach, but this is the lesser of many evils."

In other words, complicated cases cannot be trusted to a jury; on the other hand, our judges are not up to the task either.

This is because (here I am answering the president's question) judges do not live in a vacuum and are often pressured by the environment of criminals, bribers and any number of officials using telephone justice. Independence in that environment can be risky - in all respects.

Regarding a jury, if a judge can make a mistake with malicious intent, the jury can too. They are not immune from error. Mistakes occur due to lack of competence, pressure from the friends of the accused and for many other reasons. (A verdict on the murder of judge Frolova was passed by four pensioners, one unemployed juror, one housewife, a worker, a cleaning woman, a person with disabilities, a forwarding agent, a businessman, a mechanic and a production technician; most of them elderly women).

Opponents of jury trials from the North Caucasian republics argue that the trial by jury concept is totally foreign. It does not fit with local laws, customs or traditions. They have a clan system and no member of a clan will find another member guilty: a strong argument. But take elections, do they fit in? They, too, appear to lack impartiality because voting goes the way the clan decides.

If people do not learn to do their civil duty, the process will never take hold, whether as a jurist, or as a voter.

So what have we got as a result: do we need a trial by jury or must we restrict it?

Democracy we have, but free, independent, thinking citizens are few. Who should be selected as jury members under these circumstances? On the other hand, we are in dire need of unbribable and competent judges, acting strictly within the law and not according to the whims of authorities.

We also have problems with law enforcement bodies catching criminals and gathering evidence without violating the law.

In short, as Voland, the Satan in Mikhail Bulgakov's immortal novel "The Master and Margarita" said, "how is it that whatever you need you lack."  Not that he is absolutely right. But it is true that the availability of these things is critically low.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала