Comrades’ court

Comrades’ court (товариський суд; tovaryskyi sud). Judicial organ of an association or organization, whose purpose is the settling of internal disputes among the members. Comrades’ courts were introduced by the Soviet government as a form of ‘citizen participation in self-government.’ On 14 November 1919 the government of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic published the first decree ‘On Workers’ Disciplinary Courts,’ but soon these courts ceased to function, as justice became the exclusive province of the state courts. When in the 1950s–1960s ‘socialist democracy’ and the ‘people’s state’ became popular concepts, the comrades’ courts were revived as elected civil bodies. On 2 March 1959 the Soviet government decided together with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to set up the comrades’ courts and empowered the republican legislatures to regulate them. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR enacted the first Regulation on Comrades’ Courts on 15 August 1961 and a new regulation on 23 March 1977.

Comrades’ courts existed in Soviet Ukraine at various collectives—factories, institutions, collective farms, schools, building-management committees, rural centers, etc. At a general meeting of the collective five to twelve people were elected to serve for two years in the comrades’ court. The court could function with a minimum of three members present, and the members of the collective were free to participate in its sessions by posing questions. The courts had the power to rule in disputes over property valued at up to 50 rubles, work discipline, small losses affecting the collective inventory, disturbances of the public order, hooliganism, petty theft, speculation, etc. Proceedings could be initiated voluntarily by any side, the management of an enterprise or institution, the militia, the prosecutor’s office, or the courts. The comrades’ courts pronounced public condemnations (censure), compelled the guilty party to compensate the victim and to pay a penalty up to a certain limit, and recommended administrative measures or criminal prosecution. These courts reported to the general meeting of their collectives, and the general meeting could recall the court members before their term was up. The court members did not get paid for their service, which they provided from a sense of public duty (hromadske navantazhennia). The comrades’ courts did not belong to the state’s judicial system, hence there was no appeal of their decision. The law enforcement agencies, however, could be compelled to carry out the decisions of the comrades’ courts.

In 1977 the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR adopted the ‘Regulation on Citizens’ Councils on the Work of Comrades’ Courts.’ In accordance with this decision, citizens’ councils were set up by city and raion Party executive committees to assist and to oversee the work of the comrades’ courts, particularly to instruct the court members in legal matters. The citizens’ councils could oppose the decisions of the comrades’ courts before the appropriate executive committees.

Cherednychenko, Mykola. Tovarys'ki sudy Ukraïns'koï RSR (Kyiv 1964)

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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