Justice across Distances: The Unsuccessful Practice of Magistrates in Prerevolutionary Siberia
Keywords:Siberia in the late 19th – early 20th century; magistrates’ court; judicial duties; communication lines; transport.
The late nineteenth century was marked by a judicial reform in Siberia which established magistrates’ courts: this signified that the judicial system was being adapted to the political regime and space of the country. To make justice more widely available to the population, Siberian magistrates were entrusted responsibilities which they did not have in European Russia. Additionally, they had to conduct site visits to hold court hearings and investigate crimes. The author uses a cross-disciplinary approach and comparative techniques, paying close attention to daily occurrences and micro-historical details while referring to documents of diverse origin: this helps us fully consider the efficiency of the judicial system with regard to magistrates’ courts and the trips judges had to make. It becomes clear that employees responsible for the delimitation of sites did not manage to find an optimal way to do this that suited all the requirements and circumstances. In many cases, magistrates had to travel long distances and their trips were troublesome, taking up lots of working hours while also being, on occasion, absolutely unproductive; they had to use different kinds of local transport and communication lines depending on the weather and the season. This form of work led to an increase in red tape and affected the qualifications of the staff, making them treat their work irresponsibly and undermining their moral principles. Trips made by officials did not bring the court closer to the population, which resulted in a lack of attention to the population from the judicial authorities. The latter, in their turn, lacked in human and material resources and did not have an opportunity to change the situation. The heads of regional judicial institutions saw the harmful effect the magistrates’ multifunctionality and trips had on justice but could not do anything. The situation started to change after the resignation of N. V. Muravyov, Minister of Justice, who supported the combination of judicial and investigation duties by the magistrates. Overall, the territorial mobility of judicial organs proved utterly ineffective and did not make magistrates’ courts more available to the population, thus reducing their productivity. This led to several negative repercussions for the judicial system.
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