By Paul Goble
The murder of Moscow Judge Eduard Chuvashov two weeks ago is only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem, a St. Petersburg scholar says, one that threatens not only the lives of judges and their families but even the possibility of justice in the Russian Federation.
That is because, Denis Primakov, a researcher at the Institute of Problems of Law at the European University in the northern capital, says, judges routinely give out “soft” or suspended sentences because they cannot count on the legal system to protect them from angry criminals if they do otherwise (www.pravo.ru/review/view/29075/).
And that in turn, he continues, only adds to public cynicism about the judicial system, making the introduction of a law-based state that much more difficult. But the actions of the judges are understandable in human terms. Murders of judges are common, with some 310 attacks on judges having been carried out in 2006 alone.
Since then, comprehensive statistics have not been released, but in 2009 alone, Primakov continues, two deputy chief justices in Ingushetia were killed and in November, Lyubov Drozdova, the head of the Samara oblast court, was attacked by persons unknown who were trying to kill her.
In recent years, only a tiny number of people have been charged with murder or attempted murder of judges and their families, he says, a fact that has large and tragic consequences: “Society constantly demands independence from judges,” but “for this one must ensure in the first instance their defense from criminal attacks.”
At present, the legal researcher says, the legal arrangements designed to protect judges and their families “in practice does not work. Thus, in 2008, “not a single individual was convicted of violating Article 295 of the Russian Criminal Code which makes it a crime to threaten the live of a judge or investigator.
And only two people that year were convicted of violating Paragraph One of Article 298 of the code which makes it a crime to slander a judge or others involved in the judicial system. Prosecutors, Primakov says, don’t like to bring cases of this kind “despite the fact that the behavior of participants in hearings frequently does not correspond to the average bon ton.”
“The murder of a representative of the judicial corps,” the St. Petersburg scholar says, “is in essence the result of a negative attitude toward the judicial system, a general lack of respect for any power,” but one that has had the effect of “creating the conventional image of ‘the bad judge’” in Russia.
In Europe and the United States, those who show contempt to judges can be severely punished, but in Russia, judges rarely can do more than issue warnings, actions that have little impact on those appearing before them. And that lack of impact opens the way to more serious crimes such as the murder of Judge Chuvashov.
Moreover, “in attempting to provide themselves with security by giving soft sentences for serious crimes, [Russian] judges] only convince society of their own defenselessness.” One result of this unfortunate reality, Primakov says, is “the high percentage of conditional sentences” even for the worst crimes.
Primakov concludes by pointing out that “the openness of the judicial system does not mean its defenselessness” and argues that “as long as the state in Russia does not create real mechanisms for the defense of the judicial community” – from displays of a lack of respect to murder – judges will not be able to do their jobs, and Russian society will suffer.