Trial by jury

Trial by jury. A court proceeding in which, besides a judge, a body of ordinary citizens known as the jury takes part. Trial by jury originated in England and spread from there to the United States of America. In the 19th century it became widely accepted in Europe. The jury does not play an active role in the trial; it follows the proceedings and, at the end, makes a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Depending on the verdict, the judge or judges determine the punishment. Jurors do not serve continuously but only for limited terms.

Trial by jury was introduced in Russian-ruled Ukraine with the judicial reform of 1864. It was compulsory for serious criminal offenses punishable by over 10 years’ imprisonment or by death penalty, and for religious and political crimes. In the early 20th century, doubts about the institution’s usefulness arose, and the powers of the jury were gradually reduced. Efforts were made to exclude the jury from political trials. One of the strongest defenders of the institution in Ukraine was Oleksander Kistiakovsky.

In Austrian-ruled Ukraine, trial by jury was introduced in 1873 for political crimes, illegal publications, and other crimes punishable by over 10 years’ imprisonment or by death.

In Ukrainian territories within the interwar Poland, trial by jury was grounded in the Polish Constitution of 1921 and the Austrian criminal law that continued to be binding in Galicia. The Polish Criminal Code of 1928 also provided for jury trials, but they were abolished a few years later, and the new constitution did not mention them.

In Ukrainian territories ruled by Romania, trial by jury was practiced until 1936. In Czechoslovakia, juries were also abolished in the 1930s. The abolition of trial by jury reflected the theoretical argument that jurors who are unfamiliar with the law cannot render a fair verdict.

In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, trial by jury was considered to be ‘bourgeois.’ Citizen participation in the court system was limited to so-called people’s assessors, who sat with the professional judges on all courts of first instance. Although assessors had the same rights as judges, they were in practice dependent on them.

Andrii Bilynsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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