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Grigory Pasko: Is There a Procuracy in Russia?

Is there a procuracy in Russia? By Grigory Pasko, journalist On January 12, Russia traditionally celebrates the Day of the Procuracy Worker. This year was no exception. Which is curious, given that a procuracy – in the sense that the Tsar Peter the Great had in mind when he founded it – does not actually exist in Russia. What does exist is a semi-criminal organization carrying out the orders of the authorities, often incompetently. A certain Junius once said: “An injustice caused to one person is often useful for all of society”. (Montesquieu put it a bit differently: “An injustice allowed with respect to one person is a threat to everyone”.) Let us return from ancient times to today. Only a deeply interested party, if it is not blind, could fail to notice the “artistry” being concocted today by the Russian procuracy. At the same time, every inhabitant of the country understands that the procuracy would not be acting this way all on its own: without a doubt there was a command from above. All the more so given that the courts are clearly on the side of the procuracy. Nobody’s even talking about justice and fairness here. Injustice is the universal norm. And everybody knows that you can either fight injustice – or “play ball” with it. Defence lawyers fight. That’s their job. The courts play ball. And this has nothing to do with their job. It’s just that that’s the kind of courts we’ve got. But a judge has only one judge – time. So for some it is time to fight, for others time to wait. Although if the waiters joined forces with the fighters, there would be a lot more benefit and, correspondingly, a lot less injustice. You may laugh, but one of the definitions of the Latin word procure [from which “procurator” derives—Trans.] is “I express concern”. Indeed, one could even speak of the ingratitude of those whom the procuracy is so fanatically pursuing today: it is merely “expressing concern” about them, and – can you imagine it? – they’re ungrateful! Furthermore, the procuracy is actually duty-bound to be “concerned”. The law that regulates the activities of this organ enjoins it to oversee compliance with the law. This function of the procuracy hasn’t chanced since the times of Peter the Great. Today, the procuracy has the right to oversee whomever it wants, whenever it wants. But it seems there’s nobody overseeing the procuracy itself, however. The reason for such a gap in the law lies in the Constitution of Russia, pursuant to Chapter 7 of which the procuracy is part of the… judiciary branch of power. And although only Article 129, which is at the very end of this Chapter, actually concerns the procuracy, the procurators themselves seem to have no hesitation in applying the provisions of all the previous Articles to themselves as well – the ones that speak of the independence, irremovability from office, and immunity of judges. It’s gotten to the point where the procurators have begun to see themselves as being the same as thing as judges. And the judges, in their turn, haven’t stopped performing the functions of procurators – as the clear preponderance of guilty verdicts handed down by them attests. The opinion that the procuracy should only be an organ of prosecutorial power, within the system of the Ministry of Justice (as is the case with comparable institutions in the US [the prosecutorial “US Attorneys”—Trans.], for example, or in France, Austria, Japan, Poland, or the Netherlands) is not new. Here, Dmitry Kozak, while he was an official on the president’s staff, merely voiced an idea that has been floating around for a long time. But there is also another opinion: that the American, for example, doctrine of justice does not correspond to the traditions of Russian judicial procedure. And we all know that Russia’s traditions are always special and unique… If we still can’t decide whether we’re Asia or Europe, then why should anyone be surprised by the confusion over whether the Anglo-Saxon or Romano-German legal system is preferable? And while everyone else is getting lost in the thickets of legal arguments and the refinement of judicial reform, the procuracy continues to act, disregarding the law. Food for thought: In the investigative isolators and correctional colonies, you can encounter former military officers, lawyers, policemen, and even FSB agents in the capacity of accuseds and convicts. But never procurators or judges. Are they so sinless? Would that it were so! The facts bear witness to only one actually functioning principle of Russian “justice” with respect to procurators and judges – one hand washes the other (or, as we say in Russian, “a raven won’t peck out the eye of another raven”). Judges are constantly covering up for the lawlessness of procurators. Procurators, in return, do not notice the arbitrary abuse of discretion of judges. What a lovely couple they make! So lovely that procurators even have a room for themselves in courthouses. Defence lawyers have one of those little chairs with an attachable mini-desk on the side, and in recent times – a chair in an interrogation room. The next thing you know, they’ll be reduced to working on a plank bed in a holding cell. One could go on and on, with plenty of concrete examples, arguing about the failure of the current procuracy to carry out the functions it has been charged with. (And that’s without even getting into the dubiousness of some of these functions). And a huge army of human rights organizations has been doing nothing but this for decades. Personally speaking, the reason this army (according to certain data – around 350 thousand organizations!) exists in Russia in the first place is that we don’t have a normal procuracy. If the procuracy really does “provide for the unity of lawfulness on the entire territory of the country”, as the law enjoins it to, then we have no need for all those noisy human rights activists! But there is no procuracy in Russia. There is a semi-criminal organization, one that carries out the orders of the authorities with great carelessness. So great, in fact, that sometimes you can’t help but think: either they’re too lazy to maintain even the appearance of lawfulness in their actions (for example, during gang-style raids of businessmen’s or defence lawyers’ offices, or the ham-fisted prosecution of Khodorkovsky), or they really don’t have a clue about jurisprudence (in which case, why does the procuracy system have one in-house scientific research institute, two educational institutes [procurator colleges—Trans.], and three advanced career development training institutes?). The excuse made by the president of Russia long ago about how he can’t interfere in the activities of the procuracy and the courts has become a mantra. The poor dear, we recall, sometimes wasn’t even able to get through to the procurator-general on the telephone. Okay, so don’t call, and don’t interfere: I think one proposal to appoint a parliamentary investigation into the activities of the procuracy and whether or not these activities are in compliance with Russian laws would be sufficient. And besides, the president also has the right to give instructions to the procurator-general. Maybe he’s not giving the right instructions? Or maybe not to someone willing to listen to them? Or maybe it’s all our fault for not having elected the right person president.