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13.05.2013

10 times less acquittals now than in Stalin’s Soviet Union

   

As reported, the chances of being acquitted by a Ukrainian court are close to nil. Deutsche Welle reports the State Judicial Administration as saying that in 2012 there were 707 acquittals against 185 thousand convictions. That figure is higher than reported earlier, but is horrifyingly low nonetheless.

Deutsche Welle spoke with Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union who says that despite the new Criminal Procedure Code, the judiciary in Ukraine is so entrenched in its ways that it would be unwise to expect any radical shift.  He notes that in the judicial system an acquittal is seen as an extraordinary event which could cause the judge problems. Judges themselves acknowledge that it’s easier for them to hand down convictions since they will be considered to be carrying out their duty.

Bushchenko says that almost all former Soviet republics have such a harsh judicial system, but notes that in the worst year of the Terror, 1937, 10% of court rulings were acquittals, whereas the rate now is less than one percent.  In EU countries, the rate is between 5 and 10% and in the USA, for example, in Texas, it gets up to 50%.

Why have such an expensive system, he asks, if judges almost never acquit defendants? 

Other factors are corruption and corporate loyalty. According to Andriy Didenko from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, while you can’t even pay for an acquittal in Ukraine, you can end up behind bars because judges have been bribed. He says that the position of the investigators, the Prosecutor and the judges is almost always the same.

He sees a major cause of this being the fact that while the police need to produce statistics of number of crimes “solved”, the courts also need to present statistics of effective work.  They thus prop each other up.

The human rights workers agree that the new Criminal Procedure Code can improve the situation. The new CPC provides more guarantees for people accused of crimes and there are more demands for a conviction.  Yet a lot of convictions are still handed down on the basis of unacceptable evidence.  Arkady Bushchenko stresses that it would be foolish to pin ones hopes on the CPC alone and says that advocates and the public need to apply pressure to teach judges to acquit where appropriate.  He does not expect changes to be noticed soon. 

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