Political trial

A political trial is a criminal trial with political implications. When the trial is carried out without the minimum guarantees of the rule of law, the political trial is the expression of a totalitarian or authoritarian system, where the administration of justice as a whole is political (and not just the conduct of that single process, due to a biased Court).


Trial against behaviours claiming cultural pluralismEdit

T. Becker writes that "in a sense, all trials are political. Since courts are government agencies and judges are part of the 'system' all judicial decisions can be considered political."[1] A political trial is characterized by the fact that public opinion and public attitudes on one or more social questions will inevitably have an effect on the decision.[2]

Political trials can include trials for civil disobedience and other forms of protest against government policy. The government may use prosecution to frighten potential supporters and sympathizers of a movement,[3] and to discredit a movement and compel its members to spend time, money and energy avoiding conviction and imprisonment. A defendant in a political trial may offer a "legal defense" or a "political defense".

A technical defense would argue that the alleged crime did not occur as a matter of fact or law. In a political defense, a defendant may assert the political motivations behind the conduct in an attempt to convince the jury or the public of the justness of the political motivations and of the injustice of the prosecution.[4]

It has been suggested that in political cases, justice will be better served if the lists used to impanel jurors are more complete and if challenges and excuses are minimized, in order to ensure that the jury more accurately reflects the diversity of the community.[5]

Trial in order to curb opponents against the governmentEdit

When a political trial is "an examination before a court concerning the conduct of governmental affairs or somehow relating to government",[6] you could have political justice:[7] if bias is not only cultural but systemic, politics has an impact on criminal procedure chosen for the trial and on the impartiality of the Court.

There is some question as to whether political trials are necessary or if they are a disease of politics and law.[8] Political justice is defined in terms of the state's reaction to perceived threat; and political prisoners are defined as those incarcerated because of either political crime (political criminals) or political justice (victims of repression).[9]

Defendants in political trials tend to participate in the proceedings more than defendants in non-political cases, as they may have greater ability to depart from courtroom norms to speak to political and moral issues.[3]


Biased trials in democraciesEdit

Political trials in United KingdomEdit

In Northern Ireland, Diplock Courts tried anyone charged with a politically related offence and provided for delays in permitting legal access to suspects where the suspect could be interrogated for up to seven days. While suspects retained the right to silence, it was on condition that if they chose to rely upon it, a trial judge could later draw an adverse inference from their silence. One notable case, of many, arising from the British political courts in Northern Ireland is that of Belfast man Christy Walsh case.

Political trials in the United StatesEdit

Biased trials in totalitarian StatesEdit

When Soviet Union was born, the trial of Sofia Panina was one of the first political trials.[12]



  1. ^ K McNaught (1974), Political trials and the Canadian political tradition, University of Toronto Law Journal, JSTOR 825069
  2. ^ Burnstein, Malcolm (1969), Trying a Political Case, 28, Guild Prac., p. 33
  3. ^ a b Barkan, Steven E. (1976–1977), Political Trials and the Pro Se Defendant in the Adversary System, 24, Soc. Probs., p. 324
  4. ^ SE Barkan (1983), Jury Nullification in Political Trials, Social Problems, JSTOR 800407
  5. ^ J Van Dyke (1976), Selecting a jury in political trials, Case W. Res. L. Rev.
  6. ^ RP Sokol (1971), The Political Trial: Courtroom as Stage, History as Critic, New Literary History, JSTOR 468335
  7. ^ Otto Kirchheimer, Political Justice. The Use of Legal Procedure for Political Ends, Princeton University Press, 1961 (Series: Princeton Legacy Library, 2303), DOI: 10.1515/9781400878529.
  8. ^ Christenson, Ron (July 1986), What is a Political Trial?, 23, pp. 25–31, doi:10.1007/BF02695554, ISSN 0147-2011
  9. ^ Political Crime, Political Justice, and Political Prisoners, 12, Criminology, 7 Mar 2006, pp. 385–398[dead link]
  10. ^ AF Withington, J Schwartz (1978), The Political Trial of Anne Hutchinson, New England Quarterly, JSTOR 364308
  11. ^ Haber, David (1951), Lawyer Troubles in Political Trials; Harper, Fowler, 60, Yale L. J., p. 1
  12. ^ A Lindenmeyr (2001), The First Soviet Political Trial: Countess Sofia Panina before the Petrograd Revolutionary Tribunal, Russian Review, JSTOR 2679365