in the USSR and in other socialist states, persons elected in a manner prescribed by law to participate in the hearings of civil and criminal cases.
in the USSR, citizens regularly elected to serve on all courts and to hear all criminal and civil cases during their initial trial phase.
The rule that people’s assessors must join in the hearing of court cases was instituted by the Decree No. 1 on Courts of Nov. 22, 1917 (Collection of Laws and Regulations of the Worker and Peasant Government, 1917, no. 4, art. 50). The Basic Principles of Legislation on Judicial Procedure of the USSR and the Union and Autonomous Republics adopted in 1958, provide that in all courts of first instance cases shall be heard by a collegium consisting of a judge and two people’s assessors. The obligatory participation of people’s assessors in the judicial process is one of the constitutional principles of Soviet jurisprudence that expresses its truly democratic nature. At the same time it is a way of involving the working people in the actual administration of state affairs.
Any citizen of the USSR who possesses the right to vote and has reached the age of 25 by the date of the election can be elected a people’s assessor. The people’s assessors who serve on the people’s courts of a raion or city are elected for a two-year term at general meetings of production and service workers and peasants at their places of work or residence. Such a system is also used for electing the people’s assessors who serve on military tribunals. The people’s assessors serving on all other courts, including oblast, krai, autonomous oblast, and national okrug courts, the supreme courts of the autonomous and Union republics, and the Supreme Court of the USSR, are elected for terms of five years by the corresponding Soviets, up to and including the supreme soviets of the autonomous and Union republics and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
People’s assessors are called on to fulfill their duties in court on a rotating basis for a term of not more than two weeks a year; this period may be extended in order to complete a case that was begun with the assessor’s participation. While performing their duties, people’s assessors from among production and service workers continue to receive their regular wages. During court proceedings, people’s assessors have the same rights as the people’s judge. All questions that arise during trial and sentencing are decided by majority vote. Violation of the rules regarding participation by people’s assessors in the hearing of criminal and civil cases, as well as abridgment of the assessors’ rights, constitutes unconditional grounds for reversal of a sentence or verdict.
The institution of people’s assessors is also found in the foreign socialist countries. There are people’s assessors in courts at all levels in all the European socialist countries and their participation is generally obligatory in cases heard in courts of first instance.