Two aspects of Russian criminal justice today give it a reputation, inside and outside the country, for being unfair and inhumane: the presence of bias against the accused; and the excessive use of pre-trial detention, in especially bad conditions and for unseemly lengths of time. The accusatorial bias represents an unfortunate legacy of the Soviet version of the Continental or neo-inquisitorial model of criminal procedure. The crisis in pre-trial detention, with persons charged with conventional offenses awaiting trial for prolonged periods in overcrowded, tuberculosis-infested prisons, is largely a post-Soviet product. To address either of these problems fully requires, in our view, confronting another, more basic issue, namely the situation of the "investigator" (sledovatel) -- the definition of his or her role, his/her place in the institutions of justice, his/her training and support, and the incentives shaping his/her performance.
From the Judicial Reforms of 1864, criminal justice in Russia has been based upon the Continental (or neo-inquisitorial) model, in which trials that featured such adversarial elements as open, oral review of the evidence were still based upon a written case file representing pre-trial gathering and evaluation of the evidence. The preliminary investigation in late Tsarist Russia, as well as the USSR in its first years, was conducted by a legal official known as the "judicial investigator," a figure modelled after the em in France. Since the conclusions of the judicial investigator were introduced directly into a trial whose purpose