Justice restored: Constitutional Court reinstates jury trials for women

© Ruslan Krivobok
The Russian Constitutional Court has ordered the correction of a legislative amendment that effectively deprived women of the right to a jury trial, ruling that the policy was against the principle of gender equality.

The Constitutional Court looked into the amendment introduced in 2013 whereby suspects had the right to trial by court of jury if the crime they are suspected of can be punished with the death sentence or life in prison. However, a different law forbids the court to apply life sentences to women, causing an apparent contradiction that could be interpreted as gender-based discrimination. Regular Russian criminal courts consist of one judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

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The issue was brought to court by a 22-year-old woman who had been tried and sentenced to eight years in prison for killing her infant daughter. During the probe, investigators changed the charges against the suspect from manslaughter to murder, after which the woman asked for a jury trial. She was refused, however, based on the 2013 amendment.

The case was then made to parliament and other official bodies. Prominent lawyer Mikhail Barschevsky, who is now the government plenipotentiary for higher courts, brought the problem to the upper house. There, he said that depriving women of the right to a jury trial was a humiliation and “pure discrimination,” as according to statistics jury courts were 15 times more likely to pass an acquittal than regular courts.

The Constitutional Court agreed with these arguments, and its ruling reads that depriving female suspects of the right to jury trial “does not correspond with the principle of judiciary equality [and] leads to discrimination and limits the right for court defense.” It ordered Russian lawmakers to introduce corrections to the law and allowed retrial for all cases where women have been convicted for aggravated murder since 2013.

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In December last year the chairman of the Russian Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, drafted several bills allowing for broader application of jury trials in the country and reducing the number of jurors from 12 to between five and seven. Lebedev said that he counted on lawmakers’ support for his initiatives, but the State Duma has not yet held a vote on them.