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Russia's Supreme Court has moved to reverse the widespread practice
Russia's Supreme Court has moved to reverse the widespread practice of remanding suspects in custody prior to trial even if the crimes are minor, a government daily said on Wednesday.

Russian courts upheld 90% of prosecutors' remand applications and 98% of requests to extend pretrial custody last year, Rossiiskaya Gazeta said, citing Supreme Court's statistics. The country's prison population has ballooned to 900,000 people, the paper said.

The top court is drafting clearer guidelines to help judges decide if suspects should be remanded in custody, placed under house arrest, released on bail or made to give a written pledge not to abscond pending trial, and is expected to encourage judges to opt for the latter measures rather than sending suspects to detention centers, the paper reported.

The Supreme Court is also to draft recommendations on setting bail conditions, including the amount of the bond, a practice judges resort to extremely rarely in Russia.

"Under the law, a suspect facing no more than 2 years in prison can be arrested before trial in extraordinary circumstances. However, such exceptions have become the rule," a Russian penitentiary official told the daily.

"Some 80,000 people are freed from courtrooms every year for a number of reasons, having been acquitted or after receiving suspended sentences. Perhaps such people shouldn't have been thrown in a cell at all?" the paper said.

Many lawyers argue that judges lack clear criteria for deciding whether there are grounds to believe a suspect may abscond if bailed, the paper said. "Judges are accused of corruption when they reject arrests for suspects and criticized for issuing arrest warrants too often," the paper said.

This has prompted the Supreme Court to set out criteria for issuing arrest warrants and other court rulings for suspects in a document that will be binding for judges, the paper said.

Russia has the third highest prison population in the world behind China, with 1.5 million prisoners, and the world leader, the U.S. with up to 2.3 million people incarcerated, according to a penal report published in 2008.


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