MOSCOW Moscow's city government is pushing for federal legislation to give major Russian cities the authority to hand pick juries for trials, officials and lawyers said Friday.
The proposal is the latest indication that the authority and independence of juries in Russia is eroding, less than 20 years after the restoration of jury trials. It was unclear how the proposal would fare if parliament takes it up.
The proposal is "a profanity on the very idea of jurors," defense lawyer Viktor Parshutkin said.
Under the current system for jury trials in Moscow, the city's highest court chooses a potential pool of up to 80 people. From that pool, defendants and prosecutors agree on 18 jurors and alternates.
A City Hall official said Moscow's powerful mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, sent a letter to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, this week asking for the authority to compile the initial jury pool list. The official asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
"Passing these amendments will guarantee the appropriate functioning of the judicial system," said the letter, addressed to Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov.
It was unclear when the Duma would discuss the proposal, but several lawmakers from the Kremlin-backed United Russia, which holds a strong majority in the Duma, said they backed the proposal.
"The mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg ought to have the right to create lists of jurors," said Oleg Valenchuk, who introduced the measure in the Duma.
Jury trials were banned by the Bolsheviks but were reintroduced in 1993 in a signature reform of the post-Soviet era. Legal experts say they have been weakened in recent years by a criminal justice system compromised by politics, corruption and authorities who assume guilt.
Former judges and lawyers say the system is also under threat from authorities angered because jurors render not-guilty verdicts far more often than judges do. About two out of 10 defendants tried by juries are acquitted, compared with fewer than one in 100 tried by judges. It takes seven votes on a 12-member jury to convict.
Some lawyers allege state security agencies infiltrate juries with operatives who will vote to convict, or blackmail jurors into providing information that can be used to challenge acquittals. Juries are sometimes disbanded in the middle of a trial, which attorneys suspect is a pretext for removing jurors likely to acquit.
President Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly called for supporting an independent judiciary and has expressed respect for the Western jury system.