judicial bodies that existed in the early years of Soviet power. By the Decree on the Court No. 1, issued on Nov. 22, 1917, workers’ and peasants’ revolutionary tribunals were established to combat counterrevolution, sabotage, and other dangerous crimes. They were to consist of a presiding judge and six rotating assessors (ocherednye zasedateli), elected by provincial or municipal soviets. In 1918 the revolutionary tribunals were also assigned to review cases involving espionage, pogroms, bribery, fraud, the falsification or misuse of documents, and hooliganism.
Proceedings in the revolutionary tribunals, as in the general courts, were conducted in the language of the majority of the population in a given locality. The court hearings were open to the public, and prosecuting and defense attorneys were allowed to participate in the trial at the discretion of the revolutionary tribunals. Initially, the sentences of the tribunals could not be appealed, but in the event of a violation of established procedure or evidence of an obvious injustice in the sentence, the People’s Commissariat of Justice had the right to request the All-Russian Central Executive Committee to order a second hearing. Appeals to a higher court and the filing of objections to the sentences of revolutionary tribunals were introduced by a decree issued by the All-Russian CEC on June 11, 1918. On the basis of this decree an appeals division was established under the All-Russian CEC.
During the first phase of their existence the revolutionary tribunals were restricted in the kind of repressive measures they could apply; however, the struggle against the class enemy required the strengthening of these measures. A decree issued by the People’s Commissariat of Justice on June 3, 1918, stated that the revolutionary tribunals were not bound by any restrictions in their choice of methods to combat counterrevolution, sabotage, and other dangerous crimes. (This provision was confirmed on Feb. 17, 1919, by the All-Russian CEC’s decree On the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission.) To hear cases of exceptional importance an elected revolutionary tribunal was established under the All-Russian CEC on May 16, 1918, consisting of a presiding judge and six members.
The organizational and operational principles of the tribunals were governed by a statute enacted by the All-Russian CEC on Apr. 12, 1919. Revolutionary tribunals were established in all the provincial capitals (one tribunal for each province) and in other major cities. Each tribunal consisted of a presiding judge and two members, all elected by local soviets or soviet executive committees from among responsible political workers. To hear appeals and objections to sentences, an appeals tribunal was established under the All-Russian CEC consisting of a presiding judge, two regular members, and a reporting member, all appointed by the CEC.
The revolutionary tribunals were abolished in 1922, after the Civil War.
In France, revolutionary tribunals were emergency courts introduced during the French Revolution to combat counterrevolution. A decree issued by the Convention on Mar. 9, 1793, created the Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal, which after the establishment of the Jacobin dictatorship on Oct. 29, 1793, came to be called the Revolutionary Tribunal. It consisted of a president, three “colleagues,” a public prosecutor, and twelve jurors. The revolutionary tribunals differed from ordinary courts in their simplified proceedings. There was no pretrial investigation, the accused was questioned directly in court, and no defense argument or appeal of the sentence was permitted. After the coup of 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794), the tribunals became instruments of counterrevolutionary terror. They were abolished by a decree issued on May 31, 1795.