Great legal processes of the previous years, for example a case on Ann Politkovskaya’s assassination and the attempt on Anatoly Chubais, make the public again and again contemplate if Russia needs peoples’ jury.
Ambiguous attitude to the jury is associated with the fact that courts by jury are not perfect.
Judging with distrust.
Some time ago, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called courts by jury “ineffective”. The Premier doesn’t call to abolish courts by jury, but considers it necessary to move it to the level of federal districts. In Putin’s opinion, the necessity of such a step is determined by the fact that some decisions in regions are taken according to clan and ethnic interests, ignoring the severity of a crime, done by this or that person, itself.
This suggestion seems quite reasonable, however, to evaluate its meaning a more profound insight analysis of the current courts by jury institute condition in Russia should be offered, stressing the issue of its efficiency. We should first of all remember that courts by jury exist not in the framework of abstract juridical system, but in the context of law-applying practice, constructed in Russia in the last two decades. They, in fact, should be compared to professional courts, which make the predominant number of sentences on criminal cases. Is it possible to say that professional courts in Russia work “efficiently”, compared to “inefficient” courts by jury? The “no” answer is obvious. Professional courts in Russia are also far from being perfect. President Dmitry Medvedev recognized public distrust to professional courts, which poses, from his point of view, a fundamental state and society problem as a whole.
Prosecution machine failure.
Let’s have a look at some facts. Medvedev fights with lawlessness in courts and is looking for “mechanisms, allowing correctively and constitutionally control the situation inside courts corporation”. But courts by jury, which can’t be claimed as not trusted by people, already play a real counter power to this lawlessness, yet not perfect.
Courts by jury differ from professional courts. Very often judges, being a part of the state apparatus almost always stay closer to prosecution and from time to time, saying it plain, take care about how to please the execution power, not about law and justice. Nowadays courts by jury feature one among few instruments, challenging prosecuting machine of the Russian jurisdiction.
Sentencing by courts of jury is done by simple people, having no relation to jurisdiction sphere and legislation at all. It is resumed that people, without legal consciousness being overloaded with juridical postulates, will be guided purely by their sound sense, reasonability, just and own assurance of the defendant being guilty or not. That is why the jury is able to take unbiased decisions.
What reforms do judges from the people need?
From my point of view, the court by jury efficiency won’t be achieved by moving them to the federal districts level. I can’t agree with some of my colleagues’ statements who think that transferring courts by jury to the federal level is possible with the use of state-of-the-art technology: today all the courts will be equipped with the system allowing to establish video –conferences with any of the regions.
Taking into account experience of participating in courts by jury as an attorney, I am positive, that interrogating a witness, a defendant, or other participant of a process via a television bridge, will lead to distortion of the real events in minds of the judges, and wrong estimation of evidence, and as a result to a wrong sentence.
Courts by jury problems should be settled. And first of all I suggest amending the acting legislation about acceptance criteria of the jury.
According to the acting legislature a jury member in our country can be any citizen of 25 years, healthy, without any going or debt prison term, his work should have no relation to law enforcing or protecting activity. No other requirements. This is obviously not enough for those who will be thinking about a sentence to another person whose life is at stake. Even in the XIX century, when this establishment was first introduced, a jury member had to comply with many more requirements. For example a property census was established. Already in those times people understood that without such a census the jury panel ranks will be filled with poor, undereducated and not sufficiently developed to carry the specific duties people.
Nowadays it is incorrect and ethically wrong to talk about property census, since the state now guarantees equality of citizens despite of their property status (article 19, Constitution of the Russian Federation). It seems wise to choose jury members with good education, which guarantees more systematic knowledge, skills, developed thinking, ability to make conclusions logically. It means those people, who can make out in the case and rationally, but not emotionally, determine if the defendant is guilty or not.
Jury members are not truants.
Today, the board of people’s judges includes either not working people, or pensioners. It comes out that jury is composed of people with low level of education, significant connection to public opinion and easily affected by emotions.
Despite the fact that the legislator made the jury business stuff a civil duty, it never added to the people’s desire to carry it out. Moreover, no sanctions for refusal exist. Legislature envisages that the employer is to keep the working place for the jury member; it means that the latter can’t be fired from work. But cases with jury members are often discussed in courts rather for a long period of time, and it is not a limit. Of course, the employer would rather pay a fine or not pay it, because the employee will never go and take the jury member duties himself, because no responsibility is envisaged for the refusal.
A problem with two aspects arises. On the one hand, jury member labor payment system should be changed. It should be more adequate towards the issues that the society assigns before him. One the other hand the declarative prescription that jury member duties feature a civil due and an honorable obligation should be made actual. As I.Y.Foinitsky says, in pre-revolutionary Russia jury members treated their jury member duties with a kind of “religious feeling”, understanding their participation importance in performing legal procedures. Today our country can’t boast such an attitude to legislature, and it is wrong. We know that service in the army is a mandatory duty, so why can’t we have a mandatory duty of being a jury member protecting legislature? This question should be transferred from the sphere of theoretical polemics to the sphere of practical legislation. We need a law, according to which every come-of-age citizen of the country with higher education must once in several years perform his duty as a jury member. Besides increasing the courts quality of working, this step will serve the basis for legal values development in the society. People’s legislation modernization, thus, will feature the first authentic remedy against our legal nihilism.