Russian Empire - Judicial System

Judicial System

The judicial system of the Russian Empire, existed from the mid-19th century, was established by the "tsar emancipator" Alexander II, by the statute of 20 November 1864 (Sudebny Ustav). This system — based partly on English, partly on French models — was built up on certain broad principles: the separation of the judicial and administrative functions, the independence of the judges and courts, the publicity of trials and oral procedure, the equality of all classes before the law. Moreover, a democratic element was introduced by the adoption of the jury system and—so far as one order of tribunal was concerned—the election of judges. The establishment of a judicial system on these principles constituted a major change in the conception of the Russian state, which, by placing the administration of justice outside the sphere of the executive power, ceased to be a despotism. This fact made the system especially obnoxious to the bureaucracy, and during the latter years of Alexander II and the reign of Alexander III there was a piecemeal taking back of what had been given. It was reserved for the third Duma, after the 1905 Revolution, to begin the reversal of this process.

The system established by the law of 1864 was significant in that it set up two wholly separate orders of tribunals, each having their own courts of appeal and coming in contact only in the Senate, as the supreme court of cassation. The first of these, based on the English model, are the courts of the elected justices of the peace, with jurisdiction over petty causes, whether civil or criminal; the second, based on the French model, are the ordinary tribunals of nominated judges, sitting with or without a jury to hear important cases.

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