Judicial Reform of 1864

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Judicial Reform of 1864


a reform of the judicial system and legal procedures in Russia; the most consistent of the bourgeois reforms of the 1860’s and 1870’s, such as the Peasant Reform of 1861 and the Zemstvo Reform of 1864.

A consequence of the growth of capitalist relations in Russia, the Judicial Reform of 1864 reflected the class interests of the bourgeoisie. It was carried out in conformity with the judicial statutes adopted on Nov. 20, 1864: the statute of judicial institutions, the statutes of criminal and civil procedure, and the statute on punishments imposed by justices of the peace. In Russia’s borderlands, the judicial statutes were introduced with significant modifications. The entire reform was brought to completion only by 1896.

The judicial statutes reflected several bourgeois principles of court organization and procedure. The courts were separated from government administrative bodies. Judges and judicial investigators were made inviolable. Trial by jury was instituted, and a legal profession was established. Trials were proclaimed to be public, oral, and based on the adversary principle. Evidence was to be given unhindered examination. Certain judicial bodies, such as the courts of the justices of the peace, were to be elected. At the same time, the reform preserved elements of the earlier courts, which had been organized primarily by legal estate (soslovie). Representatives of the estates took part in trials. Cases involving high officials fell under a special jurisdiction. Courts for peasants, “native peoples,” the clergy, and other such groups were preserved.

Two systems of courts were established: justice-of-the-peace courts (mirovye sudy) and common courts (obshchie sudy). The justice-of-the-peace courts dealt with minor criminal and civil cases. They were established in cities and in districts (uezdy). As a rule, each district made up a justice-of-the-peace district (mirovoi okrug) —in all, 108 such districts were created—which were divided into boroughs (mirovye uchastki). Borough justices of the peace administered justice individually. They and honorary justices of the peace were elected by the district zemstvo assemblies (in the capitals, by the municipal dumas) and were confirmed in office by the first department of the Senate. The court of appeal for borough justices was the conference (s”ezd) of justices of the peace, which comprised all the justices of the peace, including honorary justices of the peace, within a district. The justice-of-the-peace courts and agencies were supervised by the minister of justice, the chambers of justice (sudebnye palaty), and the appellate department of the Senate. In the Baltic provinces, Northern Caucasus, and Transcaucasia, justices of the peace were not elected but were appointed by the minister of justice. In Poland there were no justices of the peace in the rural areas; in the cities, justices of the peace were appointed by the government.

The system of common courts comprised the regional courts (okruzhnye sudy) and the chambers of justice (one for several judicial districts). The regional court dealt with criminal and civil cases that exceeded the jurisdiction of the justices of the peace; however, cases of malfeasance committed by officials with a rank (chin) higher than titular counsellor were excluded from their competence. Cases involving crimes or deeds for which the law provided punishments and deprivation of all rights pertaining to position or of all personal rights and privileges were heard with the participation of jurors. The court of appeal for the regional court was the chamber of justice; however, the appeal of a sentence rendered by a jury court was not permitted. The Senate was the supreme and final court of appeal and the highest agency of judicial supervision. It had two appellate departments—one civil and one criminal—and could also consider certain cases in the first instance.

Judicial investigators (sudebnye sledovateli), bailiffs (sudebnye pristavy), and a procurator’s office were attached to the regional courts and chambers of justice; in addition, a council of “sworn” attorneys (prisiazhnye poverennye) was attached to the chambers of justice. The judicial investigators conducted preliminary investigations under the supervision of the procurator’s office and were subordinate to the regional courts and the chambers of justice. Procurator’s offices were attached to the common courts and the Senate. The procurator of the regional court and several assistants were attached to the regional court, the procurator of the chamber of justice and his assistants were attached to the chamber of justice, and the ober-procurator and his assistants were attached to the appellate departments of the Senate. The procurator-general—a position held by the minister of justice from 1802—exercised higher supervision of the procurator’s offices.

The Judicial Reform of 1864 was progressive in character. A new judicial system replaced the older, extremely fragmented system of courts, which had included different courts for the different social estates and different courts for different types of cases, which was plagued by a multiplicity of jurisdictions, and which was fundamentally inquisitorial in nature, with cases heard behind closed doors and investigative functions carried out by the police. Nevertheless, the reform was weakened by certain sections of the judicial statutes. Certain categories of cases were excluded from the jurisdiction of the jury courts—including crimes against the state. The system of rewards—advances in rank and the awarding of various orders—by which the local administration provided incentives to the judges remained intact.

From the 1870’s, during the period of reaction, a retreat from the previously proclaimed principles was set in motion.

The judicial reform was subjected to fundamental review sooner than were the other reforms of the 1860’s. In 1866, cases involving the press were removed from the jurisdiction of the jury courts. A law of May 19,1871, confirmed the rules of procedure for members of the Corps of Gendarmes, rules that transferred the investigation of cases involving crimes against the state to the competence of the gendarmerie. On June 7,1872, the Statute of Criminal Procedure—specifically, the section on legal procedure with respect to crimes against the state—was revised, and a Special Session of the Governing Senate, in which representatives of the estates were to take part, was thereby created for the consideration of such cases. A law of May 9, 1878—On Temporary Changes in Jurisdiction and Legal Procedure for Cases Involving Certain Crimes—greatly reduced the range of cases that the jury courts could consider. Laws of Aug. 9,1878, and Apr. 8, 1879, transferred to the military courts cases involving crimes against the state and crimes particularly dangerous to the administrative order. On Aug. 14, 1881, the Statute on Measures for the Protection of the State Order and Social Tranquillity expanded the competence of the military courts and placed limitations on the range of procedural guarantees in the institutions of the common courts. The culmination of the judicial counter-reform was the Judicial-Administrative Reform of 1889.


Sudebnaia reforma, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1915.
Vilenskii, B. V. Sudebnaia reforma i kontrreforma v Rossii. Saratov, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Judicial Reform of 1864), inter alia, powers of judicial rule-making.
representative authority", and the Judicial Reform of 1864 had a
(88) Sergei Kazantsev, "The Judicial Reform of 1864 and the Procuracy in Russia," in Reforming Justice in Russia, 1864-1996, 58.
Kazantsev ("The Judicial Reform of 1864 and the Procuracy in Russia"), Girish N.

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