The City of Fynwell has an unusually complex court system, which puts it in stark juxtaposition to most of neighboring kingdoms where disputes are resolved by local land owners or ruling monarchs. In Fynwell all citizens, including the Mayors and Ministers are beholden to the city laws and can be tried and persecuted for their crimes.
Roles and Professions
The roles, professions and titles used in Fynwell courts are as follows:
- Barrister is a law scholar that provides services to citizens. Baristers can take part in both Civil and Criminal cases, though most specialize in one or the other.
- Justicar is a law scholar tasked with persecuting criminals in the court of law, arguing the case against the accused
- Public Arbiter is a judge who presides over civil cases (see Civil Courts below)
- District Magister is a judge who preside over a criminal case in a District Court
- Grand Magister is a senior judge who preside over a criminal case in the High Court
- Judge is a private lay citizen to judge over a criminal case
Courts and Trials
Civil disputes are resolved by Public Arbiters who are law scholars appointed by Ministry of Justice to oversee each Ward. Both parties argue their case before the Arbiter either directly or via a Barister, and the Arbiter then makes a legally binding decision.
Criminal cases are tried before a District Magister who is a senior law scholar appointed by the Ministry of Justice. Most trials are conducted in two phases. The first phase is a very formal hearing during which District Justicar presents the case to the Magister, and the accused submits their plea of innocence, or admits wrongdoing. The Magister decides whether or not the case should go to trial. The hearings are ritualized and extremely formal, and breaking the protocol usually prompt the Magister to dismiss the case with prejudice, which is why most defendants are represented by a Barister who has studied and mastered the laws of the city.
If the case goes to trial both parties agree on a panel of Seven Judges selected from a pool eligible laymen elders who are not law scholars, and who can be considered peers to the accused. To be selected as a judge one has to be considered an elder by the standard of their race, have been born in the district, have impeccable reputation and history of strong moral conviction. They also must be judged impartial and objective by both the Justicar and the defense Barrister. In Court the Judges wear traditional ceremonial masks: Wolf, Ram, Raven, Hare, Rat, Bull and Snake.
The trial is less formal and during its course the District Justicar lays out the charges, calls on witnesses and provides evidence of wrong doing. The accused may be represented by a Barister who argues on their behalf or argue their case directly. The Magister oversees the proceedings and suggests a fitting punishment. The Judges listen to the arguments and then decide whether the accused is guilty or innocent, but have no authority to execute the judgment. The Magister accepts their decision and sets an appropriate punishment in form of a fee, lashings imprisonment or death (usually by hanging).
The High Court
Especially difficult or high profile cases are tried before the High Court, which consists of seven Grand Magisters. Grand Magisters are hand picked by the Mayor, and have 15 year appointments, but no term limits. Only the the most senior and experienced Magisters are eligible to become Grand Magisters, and new appointments can only be made if a current Grand Magister dies or steps down.
Citizens may appeal a decision of a District Court to the High Court but only very few cases successfully go to a High Court trial. Grand Magisters usually defer to their peers in the district courts, and only take cases which can potentially set important far reaching precedent, or are of importance to the state.