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UN expert backs reforms to legal system in Russia

UN expert backs reforms to legal system in Russia

Russia should build on recent initiatives to remove deficiencies within its judicial system, a United Nations human rights expert said today after wrapping up a visit to the country.

Leandro Despouy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, told reporters in Moscow that Government authorities at the highest level, including President Dmitry Medvedev, have expressed concerns about the independence of judicial institutions and have created a special working group on judicial reform as well as a council to fight corruption.

These moves “demonstrate the political will to tackle the problems facing the justice system,” Mr. Despouy said.

While acknowledging important reforms since 1993, especially new legislation on judicial proceedings, the Special Rapporteur said he was concerned about the lack of equal access to courts and about the fact that a significant percentage of judicial decisions, including those against state officials, are not implemented.

He also noted that there is still no legal framework at the federal level for juveniles and called for a draft law on establishing a juvenile justice system to be adopted immediately.

The issue of political interference in the appointment of judges has been brought to his attention, Mr. Despouy said, adding that problems with the implementation of judicial decisions have contributed to the poor image of judges in the eyes of the population.

Mr. Despouy said that recently proposed amendments to the Federal Law on defense lawyers would compromise the independence of the bar and would run counter to international standards, and called for them to be dropped. He added that recently introduced reforms of the office of the prosecutor should also be analyzed.

Efforts should be made to ensure that lawyers can exercise their profession without intimidation or any other obstacles, he stressed.

Mr. Despouy, who serves in an unpaid and independent capacity, will present a report on his mission to Russia to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva later this year.