Also found in: Legal.
a type of judicial procedure in which the prosecution and resolution of a case are put in the hands of the same people. The procedure arose in the Middle Ages (in the 15th century in Russia) and was the prevailing form of legal procedure during the age of absolutism. Originally used by ecclesiastical courts in heresy trials, the procedure was later adopted by secular courts. In this procedure there were no parties; the accused and the victim (who was regarded only as a complainant) had no procedural rights; and the case was tried secretly within the judicial chambers. Cases were decided entirely on the basis of written materials from a pretrial investigation, often without the accused even being present. Accused persons were tortured to obtain confessions, and even witnesses were sometimes subjected to torture.
The inquisitorial procedure was based on a system of formal evidence in which the value of each type of evidence was determined by law. A confession by the accused was held to be the best proof. The testimony of witnesses was evaluated with due regard for the social position of the witness. The procedure was abolished in France in 1789, and in the other Western European countries in 1848. In Russia it was abolished in 1864.