Staunton, April 18 – Many Russians hoped that the introduction of an appeals process in the courts of their country in 2013 would improve the administration of justice there, but Sergey Pashin and Sergy Postylyakov of the Moscow Higher School of Economics say statistics show these hopes haven’t been realized and that appeals in Russian courts are largely a formality.
In a report to be presented this week at the 16th international conference of their institution, the two legal specialists examined 280 cases of legal appeals in Russian courts and compared the results of those appeals with the results of appeals in US courts (iq.hse.ru/news/180761785.html).
As Pashin and Postylyakov point out, “the rebirth of the appeals process in Russia began in the 1990s in connection with the realization of the Conception of Judicial Reform of 1991.” Lower courts have thus had some experience with appeals, but courts farther up the latter have only had it over the last three years.
The two scholars say that their observations of the appeals process and their conversations with lawyers and with legal rights activists lead them to the conclusion that this process is not working to protect the rights of defendants but rather is characterized by concerns about doing things quickly and only on paper.
“Practically everywhere in the appeals process,” the Moscow researchers continue, “the court refuses to satisfy the appeals of the defense, avoids questioning witnesses, and the appellant usually is not included in the session but lays out his position via video conferencing.” Moreover, the lawyers involved are often the courts’ own and inclined to support convictions.
As a result, appeals courts are twice as likely to find guilty those who were originally found innocent than to find innocent those who were originally found guilty. That pattern, the two point out is “extremely atypical for the legal system of the United States.”
Moreover, “in analyzing the decisions of the courts, the scholars came to the conclusion that in considering findings of guilt, the appellant court prefers not to get involved in the essence of the case trusting the internal conviction of the lower court judges” and thus not inclined to overrule them.
As for when the appeals courts find someone guilty who earlier was judged innocent, the two say, “the appeals court more often cited the lack of correspondence between the conclusions of the court and the facts of the case,” an imbalance that lies behind the failure of the appeals process to work as intended. This pattern also holds for cases decided by juries.
What is most striking, however, Pashin and Postylyakov point out, is that in American courts, those exonerated by the court of first instance cannot be convicted by the appeals of prosecutors except in the rarest of circumstances while in Russia this is something quite normal and especially dangerous because so few people charged with crimes are ever exonerated.
The practice of the Russian appeals courts violates the holdigs of Russia’s Constitutional Court about the right of appeal, and “therefore,” the two scholars say, “the appeals process needs to be reviewed and corrected.”