People's Commissar of Justice
Decree on Revolutionary Tribunals[1]

Written: December 19, 1917/January 1, 1918
First Published: Sobranie Uzakonenii i Rasporiazhenii Rabochego i Krestianskogo Pravitelstva, 1917, No. 12, pp. 179-81.
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. 293-295.
Translated: Emanuel Aronsberg
Transcription/Markup: Zdravko Saveski
Online Version: 2017

1. The Revolutionary Tribunal will have jurisdiction in cases of persons (a) who organize uprisings against the authority of the Workers' and Peasants' Government, who actively oppose the latter or do not obey it, or who call upon other persons to oppose or disobey it; (b) who take advantage of their position as government or public servants to disturb or hamper the regular progress of work in the institutions or enterprises in which they are or have been serving (sabotage, concealing or destroying documents or property, etc.); (c) who stop or curtail the production of articles of general use without actual necessity for doing so .... ; (e) who violate the decrees, orders, binding ordinances, and other published acts of the organs of the Workers' and Peasants' Government, if the violation of such acts calls for a trial by the Revolutionary Tribunal.

2 ..... In fixing the penalty, the Revolutionary Tribunal shall be guided by the circumstances of the case and the dictates of the revolutionary conscience.

3. (a) The Revolutionary Tribunal is to be elected by the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies and is to include one permanent chairman, two permanent substitutes, one permanent secretary and two substitutes, and forty jurors. All persons, except the jurors, are elected for three months and may be recalled by the Soviets before the expiration of the term. (b) The jurors are elected for one month. . . . . Lists of jurors numbering six, and one or two in addition, are to be made up for each session. (c) The session of each successive jury of the Revolutionary Tribunal is to last no longer than one week. .... (f) An investigating commission consisting of six members .... is to be created under the Revolutionary Tribunal for the conduct of the preliminary investigation. (g) Upon receiving information or complaint, the investigating commission examines it and within forty-eight hours either orders the dismissal of the case, if it does not find that a crime has been committed, or transfers it to the proper jurisdiction, or brings it up for trial at the session of the Revolutionary Tribunal. (h) The orders of the investigating commission about arrests, searches, seizures, and releases of detained persons are valid if issued jointly by three members. In cases which do not permit of delay such orders may be issued by any member of the investigating commission singly, on the condition that within twelve hours the measure shall be approved by the investigating commission. (i) The order of the investigating commission is carried out by the Red Guard, the militia, the troops, and the executive organs of the Republic. (j) Complaints against the decisions of the investigating commission are submitted to the Revolutionary Tribunal through its president and are considered at executive sessions of the Revolutionary Tribunal.....

4. The sessions of the Revolutionary Tribunal are public.

5. The verdicts of the Revolutionary Tribunal are rendered by a majority of votes of the members of the Tribunal.

6. The legal investigation is made with the participation of the prosecution and defense.

7. (a) Citizens of either sex who enjoy political rights are admitted at the will of the parties as prosecutors and counsel for the defense, with the right to participate in the case; (b) under the Revolutionary Tribunals a collegium of persons is to be created who devote themselves to the service of the law, in the form of public prosecution as well as of public defense; (c) the collegium mentioned above is formed by the free registration of all persons who desire to render aid to revolutionary justice and who present recommendations from the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies.

8. The Revolutionary Tribunal may invite for each case a public prosecutor from the membership of the collegium named.

9. If the accused does not for some reason use his right to invite counsel for defense, the Revolutionary Tribunal, at his request, appoints a member of the collegium for his defense.

10. Besides the above-mentioned prosecutors and defense, one prosecutor and one counsel for defense, drawn from the public present at the session, may take part in the court's proceedings.

11. The verdicts of the Revolutionary Tribunal are final. In case of violation of the form of procedure established by these instructions, or the discovery of indications of obvious injustice in the verdict, the People's Commissar of Justice has the right to address to the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies a request to order a second and last trial of the case.

12. The maintenance of the Revolutionary Tribunal is charged to the account of the state. The amount of compensation and the daily fees are fixed by the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies. The jurors receive the difference between the daily fees and their daily earnings, if the latter are less than the daily fees; at the same time the jurors may not be deprived of their positions during the session.


People's Commissar of Justice


[1] On November 18/December 31 there had been organized a Revolutionary Tribunal of the Press to try cases in which the press was charged with publishing false or perverted information about events in public life (S.U.R. [Sobranie Uzakonenii i Rasporiazhenii Rabochego i Krestianskogo Pravitelstva], 1917, No. 10, p. 155).