|Note:||This is an OOC document produced as part of the Purple Monday project, borrowed for the purpose of enhancing Stormwind City's roleplay on Moon Guard US. All credit should be given to the Purple Monday group of the Earthen Ring EU server. Everything presented is only a proposition.|
Courts and Trials
So we've got the laws – what happens when they're broken? Before we look too closely into that, we need to examine the apparatus by which crimes are eventually punished. How is it decided whether a man is guilty or innocent? And who takes that decision?
To find out, we must descend from the top down to the bottom of a hierarchy of lawmakers, which begins with our very own Kingy-wing.
The highest tier of government and of law, which we have called 'The Crown' rather than 'The King' This is because for our purposes he is a function rather than a living entity. The Crown represents what one can and can't plausibly do. It represents the justification for your power, but it also represents the immutability of the gameworld and what is laid out in the lore. Regard it as you would a voting base: something which gives you your authority but only as long as you stay within the conditions, which are, in this case, lore and mechanics. Varian might be a more dynamic character than Anduin was but he's not going to be judging any cases or taking any player-political decisions. Luckily, both official lore and events on the server suggest that the balance of power between the House of Nobles and the Crown is not as subordinate as one might think, so players do not have to treat his wishes too reverently.
The Lord Magistrate
The Lord Magistrate, who shall be the arbiter of law in the King's stead within the realm, is appointed directly by the king. Which is to say that in these trying times the King is busy with other things, like killing orcs, so that the balance of power in civil governance between him and the House of Nobles probably means that they recommend a Lord Magistrate to His Majesty, who then says “jolly good” according to the principles set out above.
The Lord Magistrate has to already be a member of the House, and once sworn in his task includes trying serious offences, arranging trials and appeals, and appointing and overseeing magistrates. His assent is needed for people to become magistrates, and he can choose to investigate individual justices if he hears reports of their misconduct, dismissing them if necessary. He's also got a passing responsibility to help recruit new magistrates, although he can appoint an officer to do this for him.
Magistrates are justices of the King's Peace in his realm, and as such will be asked to judge cases and preside over trials as they come. They need not be noble, but they shall be of good standing, vouched for by two known persons and one Churchman (a member of the clergy or Silver Hand paladin). When these are secured, the application and information about the three vouchsafes are sent up to the Lord Magistrate, who then stamps them 'APPROVED' or 'DENIED' at his discretion.
Once appointed, magistrates are permanent, unless dismissed by the Lord Magistrate. The position does not carry any salary. Magistrates will find themselves working with the guard to catch and try criminals, issuing warrants, presiding over trials, and so on. They can work when they have the time; the job doesn't necessarily need to be that much of a duty, but magistrates will be expected to pull at least some weight. There should always be at least three of them in service at any one time, but there is no upper limit on how many are appointed.
A magistrate's first duty is to the law, not to his morality or sense of justice; further, his duty is also to the truth, or rather, to the true application of the law. It's not for the magistrate to try and prosecute a villain or absolve someone wrongly accused – that's for the respective counsels to do. The magistrate's only role is to decide judiciously and wisely what the verdict is, and then what the sentence should be. Moreover they should decide this according to the letter of the law: technicalities and loopholes should very much be respected.
Of course, this is all what should happen. Clearly enough, some magistrates are going to be biased, corrupt, or at least by default on the side of authority, taking a very dim view of those who come before the court. Whether magistrates are really fair and just, and whether, if they are not, they will be punished for it, is a matter to be decided IC and with RP.
The Structure of the Courts
Though there are not standing, organised court services as there are in the modern world, different standards of justice are characterised as being different 'courts' in Stormwind. As in real life, they form a distinct hierarchy in terms of setting legal precedent or overruling each other. The highest and most binding is His Majesty's court, which is also his political court, where His Majesty deals out the most binding law. Next down is the High Court, in which the most serious crimes, or crimes involving nobles, are tried by the Lord Magistrate. Then there is the Court of Appeal, which we'll look at later. Ordinary trials of most offences, by one or more magistrates, are considered to be tried in the Crown Court. Finally there are civil trials, settling disputes between citizens; this is called the Arbitrary Court.
Since His Majesty's court cannot be played out, it's not very much use to us. Verdicts can be decided in it, but whoever actually decides those verdicts OOC should use extreme caution and make sure that the outcome is really what King Varian would have decided.
All courts use one of two trial systems. Every one uses the inquisitorial system by default, but the High Court and the Crown Court may use the adversarial system.
Trials by Inquisition
Under the inquisitorial system, a magistrate or temporary vouched-for judge will oversee the proceedings, or, in some cases, a panel of three or even five justices. They shall then conduct the proceedings of the trial, which a clerk (possibly imaginary) will be present to record.
The accused shall be named 'the defendant'; the party bringing the suit shall be named 'the plaintiff'. In civil cases he will be named, and in criminal cases it will generally be His Majesty, ie Rex or 'R'. The defendant may be advised by a representative.
The trial will then begin, conducted thus:
One judge, designated the speaker, shall announce the proceedings, and allow the plaintiff (in criminal cases, a Guardsman) to read out the bill of the charges against the accused. The accused shall then plead guilty or not guilty; in the former, the trial shall proceed to sentencing, but in the latter, shall proceed thus.
The speaker shall call witnesses and suspects, and all other judges will have the right to question these. The goal of the court is not the prosecution of a certain person, but the finding of truth, and as such must look for both incriminating and exculpating evidence. Judges may at any time call for a verdict, although repeatedly doing so without good reason is a point of poor order. At such times, all judges will say 'ay' or 'nay', and upon a unanimous 'ay', the judges will retire to decide the case. They will then announce the verdict, and then the sentence or outcome if applicable.
Trial by Adversaries
The other system of trial is the one we all know, but that is more complicated and far more difficult to organise: the adversarial system. Here, one magistrate, or a temporary judge similarly approved,shall oversee the proceedings of the trial. A clerk will be present to record the key points of the trial, even if he's imaginary.
The accused shall be named 'the defendant'; the party bringing the suit, that is, His Majesty, shall be named 'the prosecution'. The trial shall therefore be recorded as Rex (King) versus Defendant, or 'R v (defendant's name).
The defendant may represent himself, or, if he can find a counsel willing to represent him, shall do so accordingly. The prosecution shall be brought by a paid counsel on behalf of His Majesty. Both counsels shall be approved by a member of the Church.
The trial will then begin, conducted thus:
The judge shall announce the proceedings, and allow the prosecution to read out the bill of the charges against the accused. The accused shall then plead guilty or not guilty; in the former, the trial shall proceed to sentencing, but in the latter, shall proceed thus.
The prosecution first presents its case, and may call witnesses and present evidence. After the prosecution rests, the defence presents its case and calls its own witnesses. All witnesses may be cross-examined, that is, questioned by the opposing side. The defendant is required to answer what is asked of him and his silences will be construed as evidence. The burden is on the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty, and until such time the defendant shall be assumed by default to be innocent.
After each counsel has presented his case, he shall make his closing argument, and after the closing argument of the defence has been made, the judge shall retire, and pronounce the verdict after a short time, at which he will also make a closing statement.
If the word is guilty, the judge pronounces a sentence. If not guilty, the defendant is a free man.
Before speaking, witnesses should be asked to recite the following oath: “I do hereby swear solemnly, by the Holy Light and the grace of His Majesty, [monarch's name here], long may he reign, that I shall only tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” They are then 'under oath', and obligated not to lie. Written statements should likewise be signed with the following disclaimer: “I, [witness' name], hereby attest by the Holy Light and by the grace of His Majesty that this is a true record.” They then follow this with their signature, and are similarly 'under oath'.Note: when reciting the oath for the witness to repeat, magistrates should avoid actually saying “by the grace of his majesty monarch's name here.” Note also that the oath is not permanent (which could cause inconvenience), but only applies within and during the proceedings of the trial.
The oath is done for several reasons. If it is not sworn, then any later charge of perjury or obstruction will not be solid. It also ensures in theory that the witness is telling the truth, or rather, it allows the claim that they are telling the truth to be held against them. In written statements, it ensures that the statement is actually from this person (as does the signature) and not concocted by a Guard. Finally, any statement not given under oath could be attacked by an opposition lawyer, who could with some justice request the standing judge to order it be disregarded by the court.
We have described and will describe vouchsafes throughout this document, saying things like “a magistrate must be vetted by three people of good standing...” This is partly a way to spice things up IC. The magistrate needs to actually go out in RP and forge connections with people who are willing to vouch for them; to this end, it might be worth implementing some system whereby people who vouch for a candidate who then fails to act properly will be punished in some way, meaning that they'll take rather more convincing to get them to run the risk.
But we accept that the 'member of the church' part might be difficult to fulfil, in which case people applying to positions are welcome to have an NPC vouch for them. However, this will represent an OOC assurance that their character is indeed virtuous enough to be vouched for, or, at least, that their moral deviances are well-hidden enough. Which is fair enough; saying an NPC was sticking up for your character if your character obviously didn't warrant it would be a subtle but substantial power-emote.
The following options only exist theoretically, without the necessity or expectation that they will ever come to happen in-game. I've seen many criminal cases tried, but I have never seen someone actually sue another. Still, if it does happen, these proposals exist for how to handle them; we suspect that one of the key reasons nobody ever did them was because nobody ever realised an option was there.
The Arbitrary Court derives its unfortunate but perhaps appropriate name from history; originally it referred to the process of arbitration between citizens (although scholars are divided on whether the court actually caused the word to change its meaning). It is the court in which suits between citizens are brought to justice. When contracts have been broken, when a good name has been defiled, or when a dispute over ownership arises.
A magistrate will then preside over the case in a trial by inquisition, in which both plaintiff and defendant either represent themselves or are able to secure counsel. Though the burden of proof still rests with the plaintiff, the evidence necessary to convict is a little lower than in the criminal courts; 'on the balance of probabilities' rather than 'beyond reasonable doubt'. The judge will find 'in favour' of one party or the other.
Being found at fault in a civil dispute is not the same thing as being found guilty of a criminal offence, and criminal punishments aren't handed out. Instead, the judge awards monetary or property 'damages', which the party at fault must then pay to the other party, on top of the legal costs of both parties. Failing in a civil suit, then, can be disastrous, so enter they should be entered with caution.
Though we have not compiled a proper list of civil offences, we will offer some suggestions as to what could be tried:
- Libel and slander – the former is in print, the latter in words. The plaintiff must show a) that the defendant has said something about them that is not true, and b) that the lie that was told will have a negative effect on the plaintiff's standing among others.
- Breach of contract – where a written contract has been made between the plaintiff and the defendant, the plaintiff must show that the defendant has behaved contrary to it.
- Debt – where a debt owed by one to another has not been paid. Traditionally, until they could pay up, debtors were put in prison, where they lived, leaving each day to go to work and coming back in the evening before the gates were shut.
- Dispute of ownership – there is a question of whether certain property is truly and legally owned by the plaintiff or by the defendant, and the judge must arbitrate between them. Judges are advised against threatening to cut children in half.
In adversarial cases tried so far in-game, the custom has usually been to let the judge decide the verdict, presumably because a) this is easier, b) it allows the verdict to be scripted, and c) juries run the risk of containing very silly people. But in the event that the trial organisers actually consider a jury desirable and possible, here's how it could work.
Six men, tried and true...or women, or blue space-goats, or both, or – alright, six citizens, tried and true, will sit in the jury 'box'. “Tried and true” means that they have been vouched for by the Church, have no serious criminal convictions, and are vetted for independence by the magistrate (although the magistrate may in practice be biased in these proceedings). In the trial itself, the presiding magistrate will direct the proceedings and keep them in good order, and then, once both defence and prosecution have made their closing statements, he should pronounce his own summary. In this speech, he will not venture his own opinions as to what verdict should be returned, but will instead attempt to clarify matters of law, and frame the question for the jury, making sure that they understand what it is they are deciding.
After this, the jury will retire to a private place, from which they must return within an hour with a unanimous verdict of 'guilty' or 'not guilty'. They are within their rights to return a 'perverse verdict', one which doesn't make sense considering the law. After they have done so, the judge will either let the defendant free, or will pronounce upon a sentence and a reason for it.
Appeals are another thing we have never seen done, and perhaps with good reason – there is a point where the bureaucracy and trouble of trying to simulate the real world becomes simply too much hassle and not enough fun. But should anyone want to try this, we suggest that appeals should be available for only for serious crimes, and must be attended by a reason for making them. They will then be heard at the discretion of the Lord Magistrate, who forms a temporary Court of Appeal out of himself and two other magistrates of his choosing. The usual reason for an appeal should not be that the verdict was wrongly decided, but when there was confusion over some point of law which needs to be clarified in future (such as what was meant by 'malicious', or precisely when a person qualifies as having 'entered' a building for the purposes of burglary). If an appeal court decides on such a point of law, their decision should be noted and will be binding in future.
This may all seem remarkably bureaucratic and complicated. Just because it's about a hundred times simpler than actual legal conduct, that does not necessarily mean it's appropriate to employ in an imaginary fairy-world environment where we are all playing, at the end of the day, to have fun. Nobody wants to be a slave of the law.
But beyond the basic level on which everyone is free to follow or to ignore our suggestions, there is also another at which large parts of this document are unnecessary and simply voluntary. If guards and criminals don't want to complicate things too much with an adversarial trial and a subsequent appeal, they need not. If they do, however, the option is there. When it comes to it, we suspect the trying and sentencing of criminals will be a lot more straightforward than this document might make it seem.
Furthermore, the existence of a structure doesn't restrict RP – it provokes it. Having such a structure to play in response to and within, to negotiate or to escape, to maintain or to attack, creates the conditions under which drama (the good kind) can unfold. And we hope it will unfold within the process of justice upon which, having explained magistrates and trials, we are about to elaborate.