#17 - JRL 2009-235 - JRL Home
Lawyer's death in prison led to penal system shake-up - Russian justice minister

Moscow, 24 December: Hermitage (Capital) lawyer Sergey Magnitskiy's death in a remand centre should become an impetus for a radical reform of the penal system, Russian Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov believes.

"The tragic incident in one of Moscow's prisons (Magnitskiy's death) became a kind of apotheosis, a testimony to the troubled state of the penal system. But on the other hand, cynical as it may sound, this death should become an impetus for the system to undergo radical transformation," Konovalov told journalists in Moscow on Thursday (24 December).

He also said he was confident that "it will happen, on many parameters, in the very near future".

Speaking of a blueprint of reform in the penitentiary system, Konovalov noted that work on it had been going on for nearly a year. "The results, of course, may not be that clear to see, not least because the situation within the system had crumbled completely due to neglect," the minister said.

In his words, "the main principle of the reform should be the inevitability of punishment, not its severity or brutality". "I am convinced that this view is shared in general by most lawyers in the country, and the head of state confirmed that he felt an affinity to this approach too," Konovalov said.

He revealed that much attention was to be paid in the course of the reform to the issue of alternative punishment, including the use of bail. Relevant changes have to be made to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedures Code under the proposals being drawn up jointly by the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office, Konovalov added.

He also believes that, in order to improve the situation in the penitentiary system, it is necessary to improve financial provisions for its staff. "It is important that the people should receive genuinely good pay and a good social package for doing their job, which is far from easy and not the most pleasant in the world, but at the same time their responsibility and the efficiency of their work should be raised sharply," the minister stressed.

(Passage omitted: President Dmitriy Medvedev's comments on need for penal reform in his end-of-year TV address)

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