The Russian Supreme Court secures the Chechen residents’ right to legal assistance.


21 December 2011

Last Friday we learnt that the Supreme Court of Russia considered the supervisory appeal lodged by the Joint Mobile Group of Russian NGOs (JMG) and sustained it by agreeing with the Russian Constitutional Court which allows other individuals, besides defense attorneys, to represent victims, if the victim   files a corresponding petition.

You may remember that on October 4, 2011 chairman of the Supreme Court of Chechnya Z.S. Zaurbekov adjudicated on a similar appeal of JMG lawyers and concluded that on the territory of Chechnya claimants and victims could only be represented by defense attorneys.

The JMG was startled to find Zaurbekov’s position. It seemed that the decision was based not on law, but on other considerations. For instance, he ignored all references to Russian Constitutional Court judgments given in the supervisory appeal. Even more surprising is that the Chechen Supreme Court chairman’s decision is inconsistent with the case law of district and city Chechen courts which readily allow lawyers who do not have an official status of a defense attorney to represent victims and claimants. For example, JMG lawyers have been freely representing interests of Chechnya residents in republican offices of the Investigation Committee, Prosecutor’s Office, as well as in courts since 2009.

What is the problem then? Why has Mr. Zaurbekov delivered a judgment so sharply contrasting the common practice of the Chechen Supreme Court itself? One would think that the issue of representation in criminal proceedings was settled long ago…

We may suppose that such a contradictory judgment was not based on law, but triggered by the facts of the case in the context of which the appeal was filed – the case about detention of the Joint Mobile Group of human rights defenders in 2010.

You may remember that on February 7, 2010 around 7 p.m. in Shaly, Chechnya, the police detained three human rights defenders: Dmitry Yegoshin (Regional NGO “Man and Law”, Yoshkar-Ola), Roman Veretennikov (NGO “Mothers in support of detainees, indictees and convicts”, Krasnodar), Vladislav Sadykov (Bashkirian represenatation of INGO “Committee against Torture”).  The three detainees were lawyers of the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) of Russian human rights defenders that had been working in Chechnya since November 2009 investigating into the allegations of torture, abduction and notorious murders recently committed in that Russian region.  

Infamous Magomed Daudov, at that moment – head of the Shaly District Department of Internal Affairs (where the detainees were taken), personally participated in the detention. By the way, now Mr. Daudov is the Chechen administration head.

A crime report was lodged to the Russian Investigative Committee in connection with Sadykov’s, Yegoshin’s and Veretennikov’s unlawful detention and custodial placement. Investigators of the Shaly Interdistrict Investigation Department issued several refusals to instigate criminal proceedings which were later found unlawful and unfounded by higher-standing investigative authorities and courts.

In summer the Shaly city court dismissed the appeal against another refusal to instigate criminal proceedings on the grounds that the representative who had signed the appeal was not a defense attorney. The Chechen Supreme Court, being the cassation instance, and later Republican Court chairman Z.S. Zaurbekov supported that apparently unlawful decision by dismissing the supervisory appeal.  

As mentioned above, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation disagreed with such footloose interpretation of the Russian Criminal Code   and referred the case for retrial to the Chechen Supreme Court Presidium. The hearing is scheduled for December 22. We wonder whether or not Chechen Supreme Court Presidium head Z.S. Zaurbekov will again dare to defy law in order to please high-standing actors involved in this case

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