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Russian Legislators to Ban Juries From Serious Cases

Terrorism and spying are too serious for juries to rule on, Russian lawmakers said. In a move human rights groups fear will weaken the judiciary's independence, judges may soon be deciding all verdicts on serious crime

Statue of the goddess Justice holding scales

Russians disagree on whether judges or juries are more adept at dealing justice

The lower house of Russia's parliament passed the bill on Friday, Dec. 5, in the first of three required readings, the Interfax news agency reported, adding that 351 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill while 34 were opposed.

"A practice has been noted where juries acquit terrorists who have committed grave crimes," Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the Duma's security committee, was quoted as saying on the Web site of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

Legislators proposed the bill to limit the use of jury trials, which were introduced in the post-Soviet era. Supporters of the bill have said trial by jury ends much more often in an acquittal than trials where a judge presides over the case.

A view of the defendents cage during the first session of the journalist Politkovskaya murder trial in Moscow

The fates of three men accused of killing Politkovskaya will be decided by a jury

In some high-profile cases, such as the trial of the murdered journalist Paul Klebnikov, the suspects were acquitted. The trial of three men accused of roles in the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya is being heard before a jury.

Lawyers and human rights organization, however, have criticized the bill. They have said rampant corruption in the Russian judiciary affects judges' independence.

"Jury trials have their own negatives, but they are less biased," Yuri Schmidt, a Moscow-based defense lawyer, told Reuters news agency. "Courts without juries won't take free decisions and instead all decisions will be controlled by the authorities."

The bill would also abolish jury trials for people suspected of treason, hostage-taking, organizing mass disturbances and some other serious crimes.

Before the bill is enacted as law, it must pass two more readings in the Duma and be approved by the upper house of parliament and President Dmitry Medvedev.

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