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Top Strasbourg judges comment on Russian justice system's failings, improvements

Moscow, 3 August: President of the European Court of Human Rights Jean Paul Costa has called on Russia to reduce the length of time that suspects are held in custody before trial.

According to Costa, the main problems which the Strasbourg court comes across in Russia are "failure to implement court decisions" and "excessively lengthy hearings of cases in court".

"Again, this is not just a Russian problem. It applies to Eastern European countries, Italy (the champion, where courts can spend up to 20 years considering cases), and France. Another example is the situation in Russian prisons. There is a similar situation in Ukraine. And of course, there is excessively long detention in custody before trials," Costa said in an interview with Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper published today.

Noting the unsatisfactory state of the Russian penal system, Costa acknowledged that it could take a long time to solve the problem.

"Alas, solving the problem will take a long time - either everyone needs to be released, or new prisons need to be built. We can't release prisoners - society won't allow it. And it takes a long time and a lot of money to build new prisons. So the problem is not going to improve tomorrow, or even the day after," said Costa.

However, he added: "The simplest thing would be to reduce the period of pre-trial custody in pre-trial detention centres. The position of our court is clear on this - it should be no longer than two years. It seems to me that the problem can be resolved easily, since it depends entirely on the position of Russian judges." Costa said that Russia had "good laws", but that they needed to be implemented.

(In a later report at 0817 gmt the same day, Interfax cited a judge from Russia working at the European Court of Human Rights, Anatoliy Kovler, who had told Moskovskiye Novosti that "when a certain political number of our (the European Court's) decisions build up, the (Russian) authorities react fairly quickly". He said that there were now "significantly fewer cases in which journalists complain about the authorities' actions, especially at the local level", as a result of a Supreme Court ruling issued after the Grinberg vs Russia case. "A Ministry of Justice instruction forbidding the disclosure of correspondence sent to the judicial authorities, the prosecutor's office or its structures, and the European Court" had also resulted from a European Court hearing linked to prisoners being hindered from writing to Strasbourg, added Kovler.).