Defendants need people who give a damn. How ‘public advocates’ are disrupting Russia’s justice system

Since 2001, Russia has operated a system of “public advocates,” allowing individuals without a law degree (often defendants’ friends or relatives) to help defense attorneys build cases, including in felony trials. Recently, civic activists have started serving as public advocates, offering assistance not only to friends, but also to total strangers. Unlike appointed attorneys, these advocates can choose their own cases, and they’re free from certain restrictions on lawyers: for example, they can declare in court that they consider a trial to be politically motivated. Meduza asked three public advocates to explain what they do, why they’ve taken up this work, and how someone without a law degree but a direct interest in a case can help a professional defense attorney.