MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin signed three judicial reform bills into law on Monday, taking the nation a step closer to what he called a "truly adversarial" trial system.
Russia's decade-old project to reform the justice system has stalled repeatedly, but Putin has made reinvigoration of the effort a central goal of his presidency. The reform project removes some powers from prosecutors, including the authority to authorize arrests, strengthens judges' independence and guarantees the right of jury trials.
"The decision, for example, to take a suspect into custody today can be made only by a judge. It's an extraordinarily important condition," Putin told a meeting of key Cabinet ministers Monday.
"In all regions of the Russian Federation, defendants are guaranteed the right to have their case examined by a jury. I know that because of the economic cost ... this measure will be implemented gradually, but financing for this kind of activity, on widening the network of judges working with juries, will be expanded," Putin pledged.
Jury trials existed in Russia until the Communists took power in November 1917, and several regions introduced them as an experiment beginning in 1993. Now they are to be made available throughout Russia beginning in 2003.
Putin said that other conditions were being implemented to increase defendants' rights.
"The rights of lawyers and prosecutors will be balanced in the judicial process. Defense lawyers will be required in all criminal cases," Putin told his Cabinet ministers. "Trials are truly becoming adversarial."