Popular Front proposes softer line on crime

An official from the pro-Putin political movement, United Popular Front, has suggested updating the Criminal Code in Russia to make it more effective and humane.

­Nikolai Fedorov, the head of the Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Research and the co-ordinator of the United Popular Front’s election program, has proposed devising a completely reconceived Criminal and Procedure Code which would form the basis for a new and modernized criminal justice policy.

"Multiple amendments and additions have made the existing Penal Code non-systemic and patchy.  We propose drafting and adopting a conceptually-new Penal Code for the Russian Federation that would offer both an ideological and legal foundation for formulating a modern penal policy," Interfax news agency quoted Fedorov as saying on Thursday.

He pointed out that the criminal code was excessively harsh and that courts were handing out convictions in an overwhelming majority of cases. The situation has already drawn criticism from top Russian officials and human rights activists.

Last year, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a set of amendments into the Criminal Code proposing softer punishment for economic crimes. In particular, the new Penal Code states that courts must release suspects on bail and not put them in pre-trial detention centers. The document also sets the minimum amount of bail at 500 thousand roubles for grave economic crimes and permits the use of securities and real estate as forms of payment.

Fedorov also said that the draft program of the Popular Front proposed obligatory public assessment of candidates for the judges’ posts, including formal exams and the publication of candidates' results online. "Decisions on prolonging the term of office of a Justice of the Peace should be made by a judicial qualification panel,” the official said.

"The state  and society need  to reconsider the whole system of social interests  protection and  to abolish its  extremely  repressive bias," Fedorov said. "The overwhelming majority of verdicts handed down by courts in Russia today are guilty verdicts. More than 15 million people, or one out of nine citizens in the Russian Federation, have been sentenced in the past 15 years. Such a situation deforms our society and makes it morally unhealthy. Most of these people could have done much good, had they not been imprisoned," Fyodorov said.

The United Popular Front is a political movement founded by leader of the United Russia Party, Vladimir Putin, earlier this year to attract public figures who supported Putin’s vision but who were not members of United Russia. The party promised to give half of the parliamentary seats it wins in December elections to people from the Popular Front (but still reserved the right to approve all candidates on the party council).