Decree on Abolition of Existing Legal Institutions

Written: November 24/December 7, 1917
First Published: Sobranie Uzakonenii i Rasporiazhenii Rabochego i Krestianskogo Pravitelstva, 1917, No. 4, pp. 49-51.
Source: James Bunyan and H.H. Fisher, The Bolshevik revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and materials, Stanford University Press; London: H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1934, pp. 291-292.
Translated: Emanuel Aronsberg
Transcription/Markup: Zdravko Saveski
Online Version: 2017

The Soviet of People's Commissars herewith resolves:

1. To abolish all existing general legal institutions, such as district courts, courts of appeal, and the Senate with all its departments, military and naval courts of all grades, and commercial courts; to replace all these institutions with courts established on the basis of democratic elections .....

2. To abolish the existing institution of Justices of the Peace and to replace the Justices of the Peace, heretofore elected by indirect vote, by local courts represented by a permanent local judge and two jurors summoned for each session from a special list of jurors. Local judges are henceforth to be elected on the basis of direct democratic elections, and until these elections have been held they shall be provisionally appointed by district and volost Soviets, or, in the absence of such, by uezd, city, or gubernia Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies .....

3. To abolish the existing institutions of investigating magistrates, the procurator's office, .... counselors-at-law, and private attorneys.

Pending the reformation of the entire system of legal procedure, preliminary investigations in criminal cases will be made by local judges singly, but his orders of detention and indictment must be confirmed by the decision of the entire local court.

The functions of prosecutors and counsels for the defense, which may begin even with the preliminary investigation, .... may be performed by all citizens of moral integrity, regardless of sex, who enjoy civil rights.....

5. Local courts will try cases in the name of the Russian Republic and will be guided in their rulings and verdicts by the laws of the deposed governments only in so far as those laws have not been annulled by the revolution and do not contradict the revolutionary conscience and the revolutionary conceptions of right.

Note: All those laws shall be considered void which contradict either the decrees of the Central Executive Committee of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies and the Workers' and Peasants' Government, or the minimum program of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party and the party of Socialist-Revolutionists.

6. In all disputed civil and criminal cases the parties may resort to the arbitration court. The procedure of the arbitration court will be determined by a special decree.

7. The right of pardon and the restitution of rights of persons convicted in criminal cases will belong henceforth to judicial authorities.

8. In order to fight counter-revolution .... as well as to try cases against profiteering, speculation, sabotage, and other abuses of merchants, manufacturers, officials, and other persons, revolutionary tribunals of workmen and peasants are hereby established. [These tribunals will] consist of a chairman and six jurors, which are to serve in turn and are to be elected by the gubernia and uezd Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies.

For the conduct of the preliminary investigation of such cases, special investigating commissions will be formed under the above Soviets .....[1]

V. ULIANOV (LENIN), President of the Sovnarkom



[1] A more detailed decree on the subject of the People's Court was published by the Central Executive Committee on March 7, 1918, in S.U.R. [Sobranie Uzakonenii i Rasporiazhenii Rabochego i Krestianskogo Pravitelstva], 1918, No. 26, pp. 401-404.