Mara Polyakova: Speech on 10th December 2020 at the meeting of the Human Rights Council with Vladimir Putin

10 December 2020

By Mara Fedorovna Polyakova, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, chair of the board of the Independent Council of Legal Expertise, director-general of the Centre for Scientific and Legal Expertise and Legal Assistance, member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civil Society and chair of the Standing Commission on Scientific and Legal Expertise of the Russian Council for Human Rights.

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Presidential Human Rights Council]

On 10th of December 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin met the members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights. Mara Polyakova addressed the meeting.

Mara Polyakova: With the support of our Council, the well-known Russian legal experts Sergei Pashin and Liudmila Karnozova have drafted a bill on conciliation procedures in criminal cases against minors.

In no sphere of human activity are human rights so sensitively affected as in criminal proceedings. The experience of Russia and other countries shows that the use of harsh punitive measures does not solve many problems in relation to minors such as the correction of convicts, the prevention of recidivism.

The situation of victims in criminal proceedings is particularly problematic. Condemning their abusers, awarding them amounts of compensation often has little effect. The victims are seeing in courts that their abusers are not aware of their guilt,  have no desire to make amends. It is often unrealistic to get the sums awarded by the courts, especially when it comes to large sums.

Researchers have been searching for solutions to these problems for many decades, and in this regard, the experience of many Russian regions in terms of using the institution of reconciliation between the accused and the victim in Russia is very promising and very encouraging. The main value of this institution is particularly that, at last, the interests of the victim are really taken into account, because reconciliation is carried out on the terms offered to the victim.

In addition, the use of this institution (of reconciliation – translator’s note) allows you to save many minors from a criminal future and reduce recidivism. I will give a number of examples of the use of this institution in the regions. For example, in Arkhangelsk region, in the cases where the reconciliation programmess were carried out, 5.6 percent re-offended. Where these programmess were not carried out, the rate of recidivism was 25.3 percent. In Perm region 4.1 percent committed crimes after reconciliation programs were implemented, that is the rate of recidivism was 4.1 percent; and in the same period, where reconciliation programmes were not used, the rate of recidivism was 20.2 percent. Such regions are many: Volgograd region, Kemerovo region, Kostroma region, Altai region, the Republic of Tatarstan, Lipetsk region – more than 40,000 people completed the mediation programs for minors in a short period. Many thousands of requests for the implementation of such programmes were received from the courts, preliminary investigation bodies and juvenile commissions.

However, the absence of detailed legislation threatens the further implementation of this positive experience and its distribution to other regions, its development. Many judges, especially new recruits, are hesitant to participate in this process in the absence of legislation. Many issues, as it turned out, require special legislative regulation.

This draft bill is actually not formed from scratch: there are elements in our legislation that make use of the institutions for the discontinuance of criminal proceedings because of conciliation.

I should also like to point out that implementing the new law will not require any new or additional financial resources, which is very important.  That’s because we’re talking not about creating new institutions or systems, but about the normative consolidation of an established and positive practice, about expanding the capacity to secure the rights both of the accused and of the victim to reconciliation at all stages of the criminal process, including the execution of the sentence.  The regions will be charged with implementing this practice, to the extent that they are able.

It should also be noted that this law will have an economic impact.  If reconciliation takes place early on, recidivism will decrease, court hearings will be fewer, the prison population will fall, and the burden of preliminary investigation will be reduced.  Reducing the burden on investigators and judges will also allow for better and faster consideration of other cases.

It is important to stress, Vladimir Vladimirovich, that the measures proposed in this bill meet the task that you have set of creating a child-friendly justice system.

This bill has been referred to many government bodies and it has met with approval. Many of those who were consulted expressed their desire to take part in the finalisation of the bill; they sent in their proposals, and account was taken of the overwhelming majority of these proposals.  This included the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Penitentiary Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Constitutional Court, the Public Chamber, the Federal Chamber of Lawyers, many regional courts expressing their view through the Council of Judges, and many higher educational institutions [who all supported the bill].  The only objections came from the Investigative Committee and the Office of the Prosecutor General, but it’s worth noting that this institution of reconciliation does not in reality concern them much.

Please support this bill.

Vladimir Putin: Mara Fedorovna, this is indeed a delicate and important matter. I won’t go into details now: you and I both understand that there are public cases and public accusations where society believes that an offence has been committed that undermines the interests of or is directed against the whole of society, and here even the victim’s position doesn’t matter.

Expanding the process of reconciliation – all the more so, since you say it is already developing – may be popular, especially in regard to minors.  But here only one thing is important (this is my immediate reaction, off the top of my head, as they say): it is necessary to think how to avoid pressure on the victims.  If it is possible to avoid criminal liability through reconciliation of the parties and the number of involved parties grows, then the instances of pressure on the victim in order to achieve this reconciliation are also likely to increase, and that is not acceptable.

In my opinion, therefore, this question appears entirely justified, and you have argued the case well, but it also needs to be worked out at the expert level.  While I understand that you have, as I can see, an independent expert council – that is, you already have experts on board – even so, as you will understand, it will be necessary to work this through with the participation of state experts.  However, I think that this definitely needs to be carefully looked into, all the more so because, as you say, it relates to young people, to minors; this is an extremely important and delicate matter, and we must avoid engulfing them in the criminal environment.

I completely agree with you: we need to finalise this.  I will definitely issue such an order.

Mara Polyakova: The Constitutional Court supported it, and then there was a very significant reduction in recidivism.

Vladimir Putin: I understand all your arguments, they are close to my heart and in general I agree with them.  Even so, we still need to work this through.  But in principle, yes, this is an interesting proposal.  Thank you.

Translated by Ecaterina Hughes and Elizabeth Teague

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