Genri Reznik: Unproven guilt is equivalent to proven innocence

14 February 2020

Genri Reznik is a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, vice-president of the Russian Federal Bar Association and first vice-president of the Moscow City Bar Association 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: FPA]

Genri Reznik explains the importance of his ideas for continuing judicial reform, which have formed the basis of the proposals by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, vice-president of the Federal Chamber of Lawyers of the Russian Federation, first vice-president of the Law Chamber of the city of Moscow, Genri Reznik, gave an interview at the Kovalyov Readings explaining why it is so important to reinstate jury trials in bribery and sex crime cases, and talking about the need to introduce the institution of investigative judges. He also shared his opinion on securing the role of the bar in the Constitution.

In the interview, Genri Reznik spoke about the relevance of the main topic raised this year at the Kovalyov Readings – reconciliation in law. Speaking about the need to find alternative ways of combating crime, based on compromise and the elimination of coercion, he emphasized that in cases where the victim is reconciled with the one who caused the real harm, it becomes possible to achieve social justice. Of course, this does not apply to “savage murders that outrage our morality” and other serious crimes, which are only a small proportion of overall criminal activity. But in the majority of cases the perpetrator could avoid severe punishment, or even a criminal record, especially if the victim forgave the offender.

According to Genri Reznik, in the era of digitalisation, criminologists have ever greater opportunities to solve crimes and track not only a person’s actions but even their inner world. But if we build a democratic society, the crime rate should decrease. Moreover, “the state should not set itself utopian, unrealistic goals; there should be a sober view that crime is the inescapable companion of humankind.”

In his interview, Genri Reznik dwelt in detail on the legislative proposals made by  the chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, Vyacheslav Lebedev, on the need to expand the jurisdiction of courts with the participation of jurors and the introduction of the institution of investigative judges. The President of the Russian Federation gave instructions to study these issues to the Supreme Court following a meeting with members of the Human Rights Council, where Genri Reznik had voiced similar initiatives.

It follows that the sphere of jurisdiction that was initially given to jury trials, from which cases of bribery and sexual offences were removed, should be restored. Why was this done? “In these cases there is increased risk of fabrications, provocations and slander,” says Genri Reznik. “They have heightened susceptibility and there is considerable risk of convicting an innocent. But in a jury trial a person who pleads not guilty has a real chance of exonerating himself.”

Calling judicial activity a conveyor belt where case after case is considered and the majority end with a guilty verdict, Genri Reznik emphasized that it is in jury trials where the presumption of innocence really works, “when unproven guilt is equivalent to proven innocence.” Whereas professional judges interpret all doubt in favour of the prosecution.

Answering a question about the prospect of introducing the institution of investigative judges, the vice-president of the Russian Federal Bar Association said that there was nothing new in the proposal: “the investigating judge is a professional figure who traditionally exists in a number of Western European states,” as well as being introduced in many post-Soviet states (the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan). Why is such a judge needed? “Right now, judges decide the question of protecting human rights during the preliminary investigation; they authorise actions related to the restriction of human rights, decide on the choice of preventative measures, authorise searches and the tapping of telephone conversations; and these same judges resolve complaints submitted by the defence about the actions of investigators. The same judges then consider the substance of a case.” And if the judge himself had decided to put the accused in a pre-trial detention centre, and then considers his case, this becomes a real test for his psychology. And results in a tendency to favour convicting.

Five years ago, Vladimir Putin had already ordered investigation into the possibility of introducing the institution of investigative judges, but all law enforcement agencies then opposed the position of the Supreme Court, which was not clearly articulated, Genri Reznik recalled. Then the chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation correctly reasoned that priority should be given to the introduction of new cassation and appeal authorities. But at the present time, Reznik considers, when these authorities have started working, Vyacheslav Lebedev supports the idea of instituting investigative judges; and now it is necessary to prepare thorough changes in the legislation so that this institution appears in the foreseeable future. The working group should work through this issue by 1 June and put forward appropriate proposals. The Vice-President of the Russian Federal Bar Association does not doubt that if the President of the Russian Federation submits the relevant bill, it will be adopted by the State Duma.

At the end of the interview, Genri Reznik expressed support for the proposal to consolidate the functions of the institution of the bar as a constituent part of the justice system in Chapter 7 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. However, he noted that “we must not accept amendments to the Constitution of the country at a sprint pace”.

You can watch the video recording here.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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