Justice and the State
On Justice and the State
In general, the formal justice system is rather hit-or-miss. Which is to say that the guilty object to facing justice, and use every means at their disposal to avoid it. Generally, with at least some degree of success.
The mechanisms for formally administrating justice vary with place and status, but the following guidelines are nearly always true:
1) Punishment is corporeal in nature.
2) Punishment is proportionate to the crime. Being convicted of a felony results in either exile or death, but only such crimes as murder, theft that threatens the livelihood of the victim, overtly undermining the government’s authority, or crimes that shock the conscience of the populace are generally felonies. Lesser crimes are normally punished via restitution, public humiliation such as time in the stocks or whirligig, to (in more extreme cases) being flogged and/or branded.
3) An accused person may attempt to prove his innocence via trail by ordeal or trial by combat (depending upon the situation and status of those involved).
4) There can be no punishment without a confession. Dungeons are unpleasant places to begin with, and there are an interesting array of useful devices available that can encourage the accused to either attempt to prove his innocence or confess when the patience of the administrating official begins to wear thin.
5) There must be evidence (in the opinion of the presiding official) that the crime actually occurred, and the accused actually committed it.
By tradition, religious dictate, or royal decree, there exist areas which temporal authority does not extend. Those individuals accused of a crime may seek sanctuary in such places (although this is tantamount to a confession of guilt). Barring extreme circumstances, sanctuary will automatically be granted, and may be up to a year in duration. Priests will attempt to negotiate acceptable terms of surrender between the accused and the temporal authorities. Should this fail, the individual must go into voluntary exile. The church will provide distinctive penitent clothing and a letter of safe conduct (the length of which is discretionary to the issuing clerics. A criminal who they would really like to see face justice, for, say, stealing church funds may find they have but a single day to traverse some 100 leagues.) Should the accused violate sanctuary by committing further crimes or refusing to follow the instruction in the letter of safe conduct into exile, he will immediately become an outlaw, and not eligible for sanctuary.
Outlaws and Outlawry
The worst thing temporal powers can do to an accused individual not physically in their possession is to declare them an outlaw or wolfshead. This literally means that the individual is “outside the law” and has no recourse to it. As such, he can be robbed, beaten, swindled or murdered with impunity. (In fact, if you murder an outlaw and can prove it, there awaits a nice gift of coin from the temporal authorities.) If you become an outlaw, expect life to be nasty, brutish and short.
In the places where it has been the King’s pleasure to declare forests (trees are strictly optional to this, and many villages fall under this authority) forest law prevails. It is draconian, nearly all violations of it are felonies, and there is no appeal but to the King himself. (Good luck with that.) Shooting the King’s deer is extremely hazardous to your health. So is using trees he intended for ships as firewood. Or harassing those officials and peasants directly under his protection.
In a world where supernatural evil is a real threat, the church must take an active role. Most Inquisitors are priests of Vogel, Grotz, or Zult, but other creeds are represented. However, since property cleansed by the Inquisition falls under church control, rather than reverting to feudal sovereignty, conflict between the temporal and spiritual powers is ever present, and the Inquisition is rarely able to conduct its work openly. While the Inquisition was active in the persecution of the Parin religion immediately after the civil war, it is believed that this has become a lesser priority now that the religion is no longer a threat. There are even rumors that some priests of Parin are quietly members of the Inquisition, though the truth of this is doubtful.
The Priestly Prerogative
Priests (that is, characters with at least one level of clerical rank) are not beholden to temporal law. If arrested, they may claim their privilege to be tried by clerical courts instead. Unless the priest was acting on behalf of the Inquisition, the process and penalty will probably not change a whole lot, but some might find being burned at the stake preferable to being hanged.
If you want a thing done right, it’s often best to do it yourself. Especially as the official justice system is somewhat less than reliable in many cases. This leads to feuds and bloodshed that the temporal and spiritual authorities would like very much to discourage. The temporal authorities will be especially keen to investigate and prosecute any crimes that appear to be driven by vengeance, and most of the spiritual authorities promise a more lasting punishment. (Priests of Vogel and Grotz beg to differ.) Despite this, vendetta justice remains a very common occurrence.