Jury Trial in Russia: Historical Evolvements

Anastasia Popova, MGIMO University

Abstract: In the article questions of functioning of a jury in Russia after the democratic reforms of Alexander II in second half of XIX century, its abolition in 1917 and during the modern period after their revival in the Russian Federation in 1993 are considered. The jury takes a special place among institutes of the Russian justice. In XIX century it was unconventional experiment which could exist 50 years till the beginning of the Soviet period, and afterwards has been restored in modern legal system of Russia. Initially the jury trial in Russia was created with an eye on foreign experience and subsequently acquired its original features. During the modern period the jury is transformed to the differentiated order of criminal trial intended for consideration of criminal cases where citizens-non-lawyers solved the question about whether the accused is guilty.

Keywords: jury trial, jurors, reforming, guilty verdict, legal proceeding.

Jury trial has traditionally been seen as the cornerstone of democracy and the rule of law in each democratic country. Traditionally the main role of jury trial in criminal proceedings is to secure human rights to be recognized guilty of a crime by the decision of people equal to him. For citizens it is an important guarantee against unreasonable repression by the state and the opportunity to participate in the administration of justice. UK is the birthplace of the jury in its modern form. The concept of the jury system was probably imported into Britain after the Norman Conquest, though its early functions were quite different from those today. Early jurors in England acted as witnesses providing sources of information on local affairs. Gradually, defendants began to seek the participation of these people in the trial. However, when and for what purposes jury trials began to function in Russia?

Russian form of jury trial was established in 1864 as part of the democratic reforms of Alexander II. In accordance with reform the old court was dissolved and the judicial authority was separated from executive and became independent. Secret written proceedings replaced outdoor, oral, and adversarial process; created new institutions of advocacy and justice. But a "crown" of judicial reform was a jury trial. In those days it was an element of shock therapy derived from western justice and do not match to the traditions of Russia`s justice process.[1] "Fathers" of trial by jury in Russia were prominent lawyers: Dmitry Rovinsky, Sergei Ivanovich Zarudny and Nikolai Andreevich Buckovski, who elaborated the articles of the law on this topic, considering how foreign experience of the court with participation of jurors, and also peculiarities of national history and mentality. They managed to overcome strong resistance from opponents, pointing to the danger that jurors may be easily swayed by emotion even when they are reminded to base the verdict on evidence and facts. They managed to convince the doubters in the presence of common sense and sense of justice in Russian people and to prove the necessity of this court in our country. The Russian jury trial reflects the caste division`s composition of the population. In large cities, it was dominated by nobles, officials and merchants, and small burghers and peasants. By law, a juror could then be a man of any class, meet three major requirements: Russian citizenship, age from 25 to 70 years of age and living not less than two years in the County where the election in the jury was held. To the trial were not admitted criminals, insolvent debtors, dumb, blind, deaf, crazy and those who didn`t know Russian language. The competence of the jury extended to those criminal proceedings, "for which the law is based on punishment connected with deprivation or restriction of the rights condition." Most cases were against property and human such as theft, burglary, robbery, and murder. Jury trial was a good school, where millions of ordinary people received basic legal knowledge and concepts about the law and their rights.

The coagulation activities of the Russian jury trial began in the period of the February revolution, when in March 1917 the Interim government for curbing street excesses, provisional revolutionary courts composed of magistrates and representatives from the army and workers imposed sanctions. On 24 November 1917 was released the decree of the Provisional workers 'and peasants' government, in which Bolsheviks abolished the General court and therefore the court with participation of jurors. The most important precondition for judicial reform was the recognition of Russian Federation’s sovereignty and declaring it as a democratic legal state, the functioning of which is based on the principle of powers separation. Since 1996, we can speak about the revival of the jury trial in Russia, when it appeared in nine regions of the country.

Nowadays the jury trial in Russia — a form of proceedings in criminal matters where citizens-non-lawyers solved the questions about whether the crime was committed, whether the defendant committed the offense, including whether the defendant is guilty or not, whether he deserves leniency. The decision of law questions— the legal qualification of the offense, the sentencing, the resolution of a civil suit, etc. is made by the professional judge presiding over the process. A jury trial consists of 12 jurors. A juror must be 25 years old, legally competent, and without a criminal record. The 12 jurors are selected by the prosecution and defense from a list of 30-40 eligible candidates. Lawmakers are continuously chipping away at what types of criminal offenses merit a jury trial. To deliver a verdict based on the evidence presented all jury members are placed in a locked room. They are reminded to base their verdict on the facts. The jury room is private and when the verdict is ready to be announced, jury members do not explain how they reached their decision. A guilty verdict is considered to be approved if the affirmative answers to questions on the proof of a crime, the acts of the defendant and his guilt were given by the majority vote of the jurors. The acquittal is considered to be adopted if at least six jurors voted negatively.

There are some problems of jury trial in the Russian Federation, including the introduction of it on the territory of Russia and reducing harassment by legislators. However, it is safe to say that its recreation played a positive role in the implementation of justice as it is "one of the best forms of manifestation of the principle of adversarial trial, but also an effective safeguard against the frame-up of accusations.


  1. Drozdova A.A. Jury trial: past and present // Actual problems of Russian law. 2014. №11.
  2. UK Essays. November 2013. The Jury System.
  3. Tsyganenko Sergey Stanislavovich, Vereschak Aleksandr Nikolaevich, Larionov Aleksey Nikolaevich / Trial by jury: past and present // Journal of Economic Regulation. 2014. №3.
  4. Isaev I.A. / Judicial reform of 1864: the purpose and contradictions // Scientific statement BSU. Series: Philosophy. Sociology. Right. 2014. №16.

[1] Drozdova A.A. Jury trial: Past and Present // Actual problems of Russian law. 2014. №11.