Russian parliament joins work on police reform

President Dmitry Medvedev has submitted a draft law covering the police to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Speaking in Astrakhan on Wednesday, Medvedev said the bill had been finalized. He invited “all political forces” to take part in the parliament’s discussion.

The bill will replace the present law on the police adopted in 1991. In a commentary attached to the bill, the Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, said the new legislation should compile all the rights and responsibilities of police officers, “whose activities are currently regulated by hundreds of additional laws and bylaws,” Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The document envisages that the Russian militia would be renamed police. If adopted, the new law will also oblige police officers who are on duty in public places to wear badges.

For the first time in Russian history, the draft bill was published on a special website on the internet. Citizens submitted thousands of proposals concerning the new legislation, some of which were included in the text submitted to parliament. “A number of very important changes have been made to some articles of the bill,” Medvedev said.

At the stage of public discussion, many people criticized articles regarding “policemen’s right to enter homes, presumption of lawfulness of their actions and the citizens’ right to get a lawyer only after being delivered to a police station,” Vedomosti daily said.

“The two latter points have been removed from the presidential draft bill,” the paper noted. The wording of the “most disputable article” in the bill, regarding the policemen’s right to enter homes without a warrant, was softened and now concerns actions aimed at saving people or preventing crimes. Also, in every such case a policeman is obliged to report to his immediate seniors within 24 hours, the paper said.

The article that would have allowed police “to implicitly use coercive measures,” including physical force and arms, was also removed from the text submitted to parliament, Ekho Moskvy radio said. “It was replaced by an absolutely humane wording about police that immediately helps everyone who needs its protection,” the radio added.

After the public discussion, the Interior Ministry began to amend the bill in September, Kommersant daily said. However, the fact that the ministry’s officials have drafted the bill rather than experts is the most important problem, believes State Duma deputy from the Fair Russia party Gennady Gudkov. “There have not been key changes,” he told the daily, adding that the ministry will retain “excessive functions”.

The police reform bill still needs to be “radically changed,” said Lyudmila Alekseeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group. “The bill may be likened to a facelift, instead of being a reform,” she told Interfax news agency.

Alekseeva echoed opinions of some experts who believed it was better to draft the legislation “anew instead of amending it.” The Interior Ministry will be in charge of reform. Many ideas, proposed by experts, “were not taken into account,” the human rights activist added.

President Medvedev, while announcing his decision to submit the draft law to the State Duma, stressed that the legislation may be changed during debates in parliament.

About a third of the first version of the draft bill has already been removed, Ekho Moskvy said.

The date the law would come into force has also been changed. Police will replace Russia’s militia in March, rather than at the start of next year, as was previously planned.

Sergey Borisov, RT