The Novgorod Judicial Charter and the Sudbnik

Comparing the Novgorod Judicial Charter and the Susbnik of 1497 tells us a great deal about the evolution of judicial procedures after the arrival of Ivan III. The most drastic change that the Subdnik brought was the introduction of investigations into criminal proceedings. The judicial practices outlined in the Novgorod charter follow three steps: a plaintiff levels a charge, the judge issues a decision, and the defendant is punished or exonerated for wrongdoing. The charter placed restrictions on who could serve as a witness (slaves, for instance, could only act as witnesses in cases where other slaves were being tried) and the court proceedings were threaded with religious rites and rituals.

The Sudbnik, by contrast, introduces a heierarchal judicial structure wherein boyars and major-domos administer justice and secretaries are present in all courtrooms. The sudbnik outlaws bribery and criminal charges in the name of “revenge or favor.” Notably, the document also outlines procedures for overturning unjust court proceedings and for keeping written records of trials and decisions. Even though the new judicial codes were written as the church intensified its presence in Russia, there is no religious influence on the state’s legal practices.

How does the Sudbnik compare to contemporaneous legal codes in western European states? What broader changes did Ivan III bring to Rus’ that we see reflected in his legal codes?