MOSCOW, November 12 (RAPSI) - The State Duma on Tuesday passed in the first reading a bill proposing a merger between Russia's Supreme Court and the Supreme Commercial Court, and amending the Constitution accordingly.

The amendments also stipulate a procedure for the appointment of deputies to the Prosecutor General and regional prosecutors.

The second reading is expected to be held on November 20.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed merging the Supreme Court with the Supreme Commercial Court in June.

Putin said during a plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, "I propose combining the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the Supreme Commercial Court, in which case it would be necessary to amend the Russian Constitution."

He added that this is a serious issue that needs to be considered carefully. He then urged representatives of the judiciary and legislature to unify their efforts, and urged that the issue should be considered in the legislature's fall session.

A draft law was submitted to the lower house of the Russian parliament on October 7.

In the Russian judicial system, general jurisdiction courts consider civil lawsuits, crimes and cases involving administrative offenses. This branch of the system is headed by the Supreme Court. Commercial courts hear economic disputes between legal entities pertaining to civil, administrative and other relationships.

Supreme Commercial Court Chairman Anton Ivanov warned last March that such a merger would threaten to weaken the influence of the federal supreme courts on regional justice, saying, "There is not a single country where an entire federal system would link to one court - not with such a large number of disputes and regions."

He said it would be too difficult for a single court to operate in Russia, "and it will practically lose influence on the proceedings."

Commercial courts reporting directly to the Supreme Court would make things worse, as there are many lower general courts reporting to it already, he said. The European Court of Human Rights also recognizes Russian commercial courts as an effective legal protection tool.