What Is the Difference Between a Tribunal and a Trial?

NEW – May 29, 2022

It is known that as part of the special operation in Ukraine, it is planned to establish an international military tribunal for the Ukrainian military of the “Azov” battalion. In the meantime, the procedure is under development, but the decision has already been made.

“Arguments and Facts” explains how the tribunal differs from the court and what consequences await the defendants.

What is a trial?

A trial is an integral and permanent part of the legal system of the state. Trials consider issues of various categories arising in everyday life: civil, criminal, cases of administrative offences.

Anyone can initiate a trial— a citizen or a company to resolve a variety of disputes: from a refund for a low-quality product to criminal prosecution for a crime.

The status of courts, judges and their powers are provided for at the legislative level.

What is a tribunal?

Unlike a trial, a tribunal is not an obligatory part of the judicial system of the state. It can be established by the authorities as necessary or be a permanent organisation.

The powers of a tribunal include consideration of extraordinary and specific issues. The reasons for its gathering may be very different, but most often it deals with military and international crimes. A tribunal considers crimes and other violations that are special in their scale or severity, require prompt resolution and cannot be considered in an ordinary court.

The procedure for establishing a tribunal is prescribed in the statute that is developed for a specific situation. So, for example, if not only representatives of the LPR and the DPR will take part in the “Azov” tribunal, or if the proceedings will take place on the territory of other states due to the large number of defendants, this should be reflected in the charter.

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An important difference between a tribunal and a trial is also that the decisions of a trial are binding and there is a mechanism for enforcement — there are no such rules for a tribunal.

What is an international tribunal?

An international tribunal is one of the varieties of the tribunal.

It can be urgently convened, for example, in the case when the state does not have the resources to protect its citizens from mass crimes, or is directly involved in their commission. The most famous international tribunal on this issue was the trial of the former leaders of Nazi Germany in Nuremberg.

A number of permanent tribunals have been established at the UN, including the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The main issue of his competence is the immediate release of the detained vessel and its crew. It consists of 21 members of the UN member states, which gives it the status of an international organisation.

It is important that no punishment will follow for non-compliance with the decisions of the international tribunal. It is assumed that the countries participating in international relations voluntarily adhere to the binding principle of international law – “contracts must be executed”.


Tatyana Molchanova

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