The Judicial Reform
In late 1864, the judicial reform became law after several years of strenuous effort. It replaced the old arbitrary, backlogged (over 3 million undecided cases before the courts in 1842), corrupt, and despotic judicial system with one based largely on Western principles. As with the previous two "Great Reforms," however, it was not applied immediately in all parts of the empire. And some of its provisions, for example, trial by jury, were not introduced at all in Belorussia, parts of Ukraine, Poland, and the Caucasus.
Where it was applied fully the following principles came into effect: 1. the creation of two separate court systems: for major civil or criminal cases there were regular courts, and for minor cases there were courts presided over by a Justice of the Peace, elected by a zemstvo or city duma; 2. rights to appeal under either system to higher courts; 3. the independence of the judiciary from administrative interference and the appointment of judges for life, except when removed for moral misconduct; 4. trial by jury for serious criminal cases unless considered crimes against the state; 5. the right to a lawyer; 6. the open publicity of court proceedings; 7. the use of oral testimony and pleadings--as opposed to the use of exclusively written evidence under the old system; and 8. the establishment of a professional bar.
In addition to the new courts, separate military, ecclesiastical, and peasant courts continued to exist. Since the country's peasants made up about four-fifths of the population, their volost courts were especially significant. Following the emancipation, the government reconstituted these courts, which had previously existed for state peasants. In each volost (an administrative unit generally containing several village communes) peasants now elected from among themselves their own judges. These judges dealt with minor peasant criminal offenses and most civil disputes involving only peasants. They could impose small fines, imprisonment for short periods, and even sentence a peasant to be flogged with a rod for up to twenty blows. Their decisions were to be based upon customary practices, as opposed to written law.
Although the Russian official Nikitenko complained in his diary that the new laws failed to generate widespread discussion or enthusiasm, the new judicial profession which it created did prove popular with university students. By the end of the 1860s, more than half of them were majoring in law.
Walter G. Moss, A History of