Ban on juries in terrorist and spy cases upheld

The Russian Constitutional Court ruled on April 19 that the ban on juries handling terrorist and spy cases does not contradict the Constitution and does not violate the rights of citizens to protection in court.

According to the ruling, the right for a jury is not covered by basic human rights, and juries handling such cases of the Criminal Code as terrorism and espionage may be biased.

The removal of certain categories of criminal cases from the jurisdiction of juries is due to the specific character of a crime, its diversity and heightened complexity in modern conditions, the court said.

In 2008, the federal law was adopted that changed the legislation regarding the issues of countering terrorism. Also, the Criminal Code was amended to remove such crimes as terrorist acts, forcible seizure of power, espionage, high treason, organizing illegal armed groups, taking hostages and armed mutiny from the jurisdiction of juries.

After the amendments were adopted, those accused of armed attack on the city of Nalchik, in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, in October 2005 and representatives of the Sverdlovsk regional court, appealed to the Constitutional Court for explanation.

Lawyers for the accused said that their clients were not only accused of terrorist activities, but also of aggravated murder, as well as an attempt on the life of a police officer. The two latter crimes allow those accused to ask for a jury’s presence during the proceedings.

The appeal to the Constitutional Court was written on behalf of four people, although 58 people were accused of taking part in the attack in Nalchik. Lawyer Oleg Kelemetov stated that the removal of cases connected to terrorism from jurisdiction of juries violates Part 20 of the Constitution that guarantees the right for a jury for those accused of committing grave crimes, website said.

The constitutional principle of equality had also been broken, Kelemetov and his colleagues said, adding that jury “more than other forms of justice prevents judicial mistakes.” They also stressed that adopting a law that abrogates or derogates human rights breaks Part 55 of the Constitution.

However, lawyers representing the president, the parliament, the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office in the Constitutional Court, cited the experience of other countries. They also stressed that during the proceedings in cases on terrorism handled by juries in the North Caucasus the number of acquittals was too high.

The removal of juries for those accused of terrorism “is acceptable in present conditions to guarantee public order and security,” Elena Vinogradova, representative of the Federation Council in the Constitutional Court, was quoted by the media as saying.

As the ruling of the Constitutional Court explains, the final goal of terrorists is influencing the authorities to adopt particular decisions, and their main method is intimidating the population.

The handling of the crimes connected to terrorist activities presents threat to participants of legal proceedings, including juries, it stated. This may exert “negative psychological pressure on juries and evoke fear for themselves and their families,” the court said.

Those involved in legal proceedings in such cases may be also influenced by information from non-procedural sources which might form a biased position, the court said, adding that the “effect of pressure, including threats” is not ruled out.

Some observers believe that the removal of such complicated cases from the jurisdiction of juries have made the proceedings more qualified. Juries often had found themselves under pressure and many acquittals had been soon reversed by higher courts for breaking the basics of law, lawyer Andrey Korelsky told Kommersant daily.

Sergey Borisov, RT