The Undiscovered Country
Trials and Punishment
All judicial actions are private matters between a complainant, who alleges that some wrongdoing has taken place, and a defendant, who is the alleged wrongdoer. There is no notion of a public prosecutor, police investigation or prosecuting offenders for the public good. The role of the judicial authority is to regulate the trial, and to mete out punishment as appropriate according to some consistent standard. If there is no complainant, there is no trial.
In general, trials are conducted by the local noble who has authority over the territory where the alleged crime took place. Members of the nobility have the right for their trial to be held before the Royal Judiciary.
There are three modes of trial: trial by testimony, trial by ordeal, and trial by combat.
Trial by Testimony. The complainant produces witnesses to corroborate the complaint, and the defendant produces witnesses to either contradict the complainant or testify to the defendant’s general good character. The presiding judge assesses the testimony and delivers a judgement. There is no cross-examination of witnesses. The basis for this form of trial is that anyone who is unable to produce third parties to testify to their innocence or good character is plainly a bad sort and is therefore guilty. This form of trial is used for more minor crimes, such as petty theft.
Trial by Ordeal. The defendant is made to perform a painful ordeal, such as lifting a stone out of a pot of boiling water or holding a hot metal rod for a specified period of time. If the defendant is seriously wounded by the ordeal, they are found guilty: if their wounds are minor, they are found not guilty. The basis for this form of trial is that the One will ensure by His divine grace that an innocent person is not harmed during such a trial. This form of trial is used for more serious crimes.
Trial by Combat. The defendant and the complainant (or their respective champions) fight. If the complainant wins, the defendant is found guilty: if the defendant wins, they are found not guilty.As with trial by ordeal, the basis of this trial is that the One will ensure that truth prevails in the combat. Participants fight with the weapons that the defender would usually use; so if a knight is accused, both parties will generally fight with a sword-and-shield, while if a peasant is accused polearms or cudgels will be the order of the day. This form of trial is used for the most serious crimes, such as murder. As such crimes normally carry the death penalty, it is usual for the combat to be fought to the death, though this is up to the discretion of the presiding judge.
If the defendant is found guilty, the appropriate punishment is carried out as swiftly as possible. If the defendant is found not guilty, the punishment is applied to the complainant instead.
There are four main penalties: fine, banishment, mutilation and death.
Fine. Where a crime primarily involves a material loss, whether of money, goods or livestock, the defendant will be instructed to pay the complainant the value of the loss plus an additional amount in compensation (generally 10 to 20 per cent). If the defendant is unable or unwilling to pay, then a more severe punishment will be enacted instead.
Banishment. The defendant is exiled from the location in question. This banishment will typically extend to a township and its surrounding area, though it can be widened to encompass all the lands controlled by the presiding judge. Banishment from an entire country is possible only by order of the Crown. This punishment is generally applied in cases of repeated petty crimes.
Mutilation. The defendant has a body part removed, most often a hand although feet, tongues, ears and genitals may also be removed at the presiding judge’s discretion. This punishment is generally applied to more serious crimes such as assault, or theft from a noble.
Death. The defendant is put to death. The most common forms of execution are hanging, breaking on the wheel, and hanging, drawing and quartering. The form of execution is at the discretion of the presiding judge. Nobles have the right to be executed by beheading with the sword. This punishment is generally reserved for the most serious crimes, such as murder.
Note that degrees of punishment will vary according to local circumstances. The market town of Rookburgh, for example, has been so plagued by thefts from the weekly cloth market that the local baron has instituted death by beheading for all such thieves, and has installed a beheading machine known as the Rookburgh Maiden for this purpose.