Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov: The draft law discussed today at the meeting chaired by the President of Russia is another stage in the policy being implemented by the government to optimise criminal and judicial activities. We have stated often that today, the state’s criminal policy should focus not on the severity of the punishment, but rather, on its unavoidability and proportionality as regards crime brazenness and the danger posed by the crime and the criminal to society. It is known that some of our decisions have already been rendered, with a number having passed through parliament. And the President has signed the law, particularly on eliminating the so-called minimal thresholds for criminal sanctions.
Today, we are discussing another package of new statutes. They can be nominally divided into several groups. First, it has been suggested that we return to the idea of decriminalising certain types of crimes which are currently considered criminal acts but are essentially closer to the group of administrative legal offences in terms of their severity, the danger they pose, and most importantly, today’s application of those regulations. And thus, a number of criminal acts should be transferred to the Administrative Code, to be henceforth punished under administrative practices.
Furthermore, it is suggested that we change the procedures for certain types of crimes, such as so-called commodity smuggling, wherein goods and items permitted to be sold are transported across customs borders. In other words, the subject of the crime is not so much the state’s security, as is the case when arms, drugs, and other items banned from use in the nation are smuggled in, but rather, the threat to our nation’s financial system, when customs duties are not paid. Thus, we are suggesting to somewhat restructure liability in these areas, in order to respond to real dangers and real damages that threaten the state and society.
There are a few other important things to say. We are suggesting additional types of penalties – indeed, a type of punishment that was mentioned as a recommendation in one of the Presidential Addresses to the Federal Assembly: so-called compulsory labour. This is what was referred to earlier, in the Soviet era, as obligatory labour as a suspended sentence or parole.
Today, we are proposing to make this measure a so-called alternative penalty – in other words, one of the penalties that do not involve isolation from society. Although, in essence, this measure will straddle a barrier between compulsory service, fines, correctional labour, and others on the one hand, and confinement on the other. So those who will be sentenced to this form of punishment will stay at special correctional centres, but under a far less strict regime than incarceration. They will remain under watch, but at the same time, their main activity will be labour – labour in accordance with corresponding legal regulations and remunerated labour. The salaries earned by offenders at these centres may be used to compensate damages to victims and will also be used to cover the costs of the state for their detainment. And a part of the amount earned, up to 25 per cent, will go to the detainees themselves, so that they do not lose ties with their families and social settings, and so that there is no tragic disparity between the condition of the detainee before and after imprisonment.
I would like to repeat that the main idea behind all of these changes, all of these new statutes, is the so-called liberalisation of criminal law – and, I would say, making it more pragmatic. We are talking about giving courts a much greater number of options for imposing punishments in proportion to the gravity of the crime, the danger that a guilty person poses to society, his or her attitude toward the action, and ultimately, the relation between particular offender and the interests of the state and society.
Today’s practice, which is naturally based on existing laws, is not always flexible and cannot always adequately respond to real, individual situations. Thus, we also need to understand that simply making penalties more harsh and sending tens of thousands more people to prison to serve long terms will not resolve our problems – particularly crime and crime rates. The fact of the matter is, all of these people that are incarcerated today will return to society in several years, and may be much more dangerous than they are even today. And naturally, we need to understand that today’s new statutes suggested by the President and prepared together with the Justice Ministry and the Presidential Executive Office must and will be especially applied on a case-by-case basis. In other words, people who are truly dangerous, who have broken the law in particularly egregious ways, will receive maximally strict and severe punishments. At the same time, those who are less dangerous can receive penalties that are in proportion to their guilt and crime.