Courts and Justice in the Empire

In the Shine and Wild Empire, the main country with which the Shine Cycle is concerned, courts and “the justice system” are superficially quite complicated, due to its federal structure (see the earlier posts on the Imperial Parliament, the practice of making some positions be for life, and “republican government and the franchise”), but there’s a great deal I can say about the system as a whole.

As in our world, a defendant in most cases is entitled to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. However, unlike the modern interpretation in our world, in the Empire a “jury of one’s peers” means just that—as much as possible, the jury is composed of the defendant’s true peers, drawn from his or her neighbors, fellow-citizens, and such as needed, but primarily from those in the same profession or class. (Not that “class” is usually a formalized notion.)

A jury can return any of a number of verdicts. “Guilty” should need no explanation. “Not Proven” says that the prosecution has failed to make its case, and protects the defendant from punishment (as most jurisdictions forbid double jeopardy), but it does not allow the defendant to claim to have been exonerated. There are several variations on “Not Guilty,” “Innocent,” and “Acquitted” that can be used—a jury may state that the defendant didn’t do the action he or she was accused of, or conversely that the action didn’t violate the relevant laws, or on the gripping hand that the relevant laws forbade the action, but in this case it ought to be excused. The final possible verdict, used vanishingly rarely, is “Nullification,” which declares that the law is wrong and unjust to condemn the actions. Juries also traditionally give, in addition to their verdicts, written “opinions” explaining them.

Of course, a jury trial is not the end of every case. These verdicts may be appealed by either side to a higher court. Appellate judges take the evidence in the case and the opinion of the jury into account to make a decision, which may be a request (rarely) for a new trial, for a reconsideration under revised instructions, or for a higher appeal, or may be an affirmation of the original verdict. In many jurisdictions, some cases may instead be appealed to the executive—whose powers are even more limited than an ordinary appellate court, but differ in many respects.

As I’ve mentioned before, in some jurisdictions (most of which are federal, rather than local) trials by jury may in some circumstances be replaced with “trials by contest”, under the principle that “right makes might.” This is also far more common in civil than criminal cases, especially since designated Champions are rare below the Imperial level.

Turning to what happens before a trial: Indictments are usually issued by a grand jury, which examines the evidence to see if a trial should go forward. But in most jurisdictions in the Empire, indictments can also be issued by the executive (though this prevents the prosecution from appealing the case to him should the verdict exonerate the defendant), the legislature (this is distinct from a bill of attainder—which common law forbids—and is more like a grand jury report), or ad hoc grand juries of concerned citizens.

Any comments or questions?

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