Russia’s Politicized Legal System

sls030809.jpgSabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German minister of justice and an observer at the first trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has released a very important report on the politically motivated abuses of courts in members of the Council of Europe, which includes a section detailing violations in Russia. The report summarizes the extraordinary pressures placed on judges, the safety of defense attorneys, and two emblematic cases of legal nihilism:  the Yukos trials and the HSBC/Hermitage affair.  The report also contains a draft resolution and recommendations for the PACE to consider.

Philip Pan from the Washington Post has a nice write up of the news:

The report acknowledged some progress, including pay raises for judgesthat reduce the temptation for corruption and the establishment, atleast on paper, of a judges’ council responsible for career anddisciplinary matters.

But it said a plan to give extra credit to convicts for time spentin notoriously crowded pre-trial detention facilities has beenderailed, apparently because it might have resulted in the release ofthe jailed former oil tycoon and Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger cited the start of a second trialagainst Khodorkovsky in March — on charges she said appeared tocontradict his earlier conviction — as one of two “emblematic cases”that cast doubt on President Dmitry Medvedev’s professed commitment tofighting what he calls “legal nihilism.”

The second case highlighted in the report is that of HermitageCapital, which was once the biggest foreign investor in the Russianstock market and angered officials by waging shareholder campaignsagainst corruption and mismanagement in influential firms such asGazprom, the state gas monopoly. (…)

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the government’s response to herinquiries into the case “have not been satisfactory,” and added, “Icannot help suspecting that this coordinated attack must have thesupport of senior officials.”

The report argued it would be wrong to extradite suspects to Russiain such cases. Criminals might escape punishment because of Westerndistrust of Russian courts, she wrote, but this should be a “strongincentive” for Moscow to strengthen judicial independence and adoptother reforms.