Oblast court

Oblast court. In the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, a court of the middle level that dealt in the first instance with more serious criminal and civil matters, such as treason, first-degree murder, and divorce; oversaw the work of the lower people’s courts; and heard appeals against the decisions of the lower courts. In addition, oblast courts handled the administration of the lower courts and oblast notaries, which before 1962 had been handled by the territorial organs of the Ministry of Justice of the Ukrainian SSR. The oblast court consisted of a chairman, deputy chairman, court members, and people’s assessors, all of whom were elected for five years by the oblast soviets of people’s deputies. Oblast courts were divided into civil and criminal collegia, a presidium, a secretariat, and the respective administrative bodies. The structure and functions of the oblast courts were defined by the Law Concerning the Judiciary (1960).

In the 1930s the oblast courts played a key role in Joseph Stalin’s terror. In 1934 a collegium of three professional judges called a troika was set up under each oblast court to hear political cases investigated by the NKVD. The proceedings of these extrajudicial courts were secret, and the accused were denied any civil rights. The troiki sentenced hundreds of thousands of innocent people to long imprisonment, exile, and death penalty. From 1940 to 1959 political crimes were tried mostly by military courts and then were reassigned to the oblast courts. Conducting closed trials, these courts sentenced hundreds of Ukrainian dissidents, human rights activists, and defenders of Ukrainian culture to forced labor for up to 15 years and in some cases to death. The courts were tightly controlled by the KGB and the Communist Party. (See also Court system.)

Andrii Bilynsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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