Change which is not change

No other organisation affects our lives so much as the police. Nearly 1.4 million men and women, many of them armed, stay between the government and people. On March 1, a new law on the police, or militia as it was called just a few weeks ago, came into effect. Dr Leonid Golovko, Professor of Law of Moscow State University, talks about the new law, how it is going to change this huge and ineffective organisation and whether a Pandora’s Box has been opened.

Dr Leonid Golovko
Professor of Law of Moscow State University

This police reform is like changing the name above the door without actually moving house. There is no doubt about this. The legacy of Soviet law is, inter alia, that the functions of the police were blurred. For certain historical reasons the police undertake some judicial functions.

There was no, for instance, judicial authorization of arrests. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service - de facto the police as well – borrowed the French concept of the examining magistrate, which is a less ostentatious flaw but still a flaw. All those things are embedded deeply in the contemporary Russian and, before that, Soviet criminal process.

There were hopes that the reform would remove powers the police ought not to have.

The police now do many things they should not: for instance, they give a legal qualification to what happened and apply the so-called ‘other preventive measures’ (in the U.K this is called ‘bail’). They do it, not a judge, and this is quite odd.

There was hope that the police would be stripped of powers they should not possess, and those functions should be returne