RADICAL legal reforms launched by the governor of one of Russia's most progressive regions are taking shape with the help of university experts.
The Saratov reforms, which include a controversial law allowing private property sales for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution, are being drawn up by regional governor Dimitri Ayatskov in collaboration with professors from the Saratov State Academy of Law.
The land law - which has been rejected by the Communist-dominated Russian parliament, the state duma, but applies to the vast Saratov region straddling the river Volga - promises to begin a process of freeing property transactions from 80 years of bureaucratic control. It is being watched closely throughout the country.
Since its introduction last November more than 1,450 individual contracts of sale have been agreed in the Saratov region.
Devising the new measures presented a challenge to the governor and the law academy experts because modern Russian legal codes offered no precedent. Alexander Demidov, an academy vice-rector who is working on the regional reforms, said research into ancient Russian law and Tsarist period agrarian regulations provided the basis for developing a law that also drew on contemporary French and German practice.
He said: "Land reform is an extremely difficult task because we have no precedent in Soviet law but it is one of the most important areas of legal reform.
"We have professors and experts in regional and federal law and are working intensively with the regional government on a range of reforms including property and land laws, environmental protection and commercial law reform."
Academy experts both respond to requests from the governor and initiate reform projects themselves.
The Saratov land law is providing a model for property law reforms in 40 of Russia's 89 regional governments and prom-ises to form the basis for a federal law if parliamentary opposition to the idea can be overcome.
The degree to which the region is moving ahead of reforms in central government was reflected by other developments at the academy, said rector Fedor Grigorev.
A Pounds 5 million Volga Region Institute for Legal Reform of Federal Entitites, co-funded by the Saratov region and the Russian federal procurator general's office, was under construction.
"The centre will train 1,500 legal specialists from more than 30 Russian regions and demonstrates the importance the governor places on training a new generation of lawyers," Professor Grigorev said.
Promoting human rights is also high on the agenda at the academy, which is home to the Saratov Europe Centre, a charitable foundation supported by a Tempus/ Taccis programme in association with Salford University and Saratov State University.