The Russian Duma’s overwhelming vote to ratify Protocol 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights could force the hand of the government to reform the country’s legal system.
Long promised under Vladimir Putin, the reform of Russia’s opaque justice system has been a topic of open debate for more than a decade. Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s successor to the presidency, even made it a key component to his televised interview at the end of last year.
In it he announced in no uncertain terms that “our system of the execution of punishment has not changed for decades,” and suggested the need to change was immediate. The response, both nationally and internationally, was understandably muted: this is now a well-worn promise in a country where the conviction rate for criminal cases without a jury has hovered at around 99 per cent.
The passing of Protocol 14 by the State Duma is, therefore, something of a landmark moment. Its adoption will give those accused and/or convicted of crimes in Russia a credible external authority to which they can appeal. It will also put pressure on judges to ensure that court cases are free from political interference and the standards of evidence and sentencing are in line with international codes of practice.