Have you ever really thought about our legal system? Having given the matter several minutes of thought I feel I am completely qualified to trash the whole thing.
Any form of entertainment attempting to display a rudimentary or barbaric culture sweeps immediately to their system of jurisprudence. Trial by combat. The winner must be innocent because god or whatever other supernatural figment the poor superstitious louts worship would never have let a guilty man triumph. That couldnever happen.
Trial by combat existed mostly in Germanic law, and didn’t really die out until the 16th century. England too utilized what they referred to as “the Wager of Battel,” until trial by jury became a viable option in 1166, and the Wager was finally repealed in 1819. Amusingly, before a wagerer was allowed to participate in his judicial combat, he had to swear to the attending justices that he had not eaten nor drank that day, nor was he under the effects of any witchcraft or sorcery.
Of course our legal system is based in ancient Greece. Now the greeks (not grecians) were the closest of their time to what we might call “civilized,” although they were even further from hovercars than we are. They had orators present in their courts who were not allowed to plead on behalf of their clients, (they lied and claimed to be a “friend” of the accused) nor were they permitted to accept payment. (They lied again and took it anyway.) I also think it’s significant enough to merit attention that ancient Greece birthed its scholarly elite and thus its civilization on the backs of a considerable slave class, for whom the legal system was no refuge. Can you see the similarities?
In the Roman empire lawyers as such were technically illegal — though that didn’t really slow them down — until Claudius finally admitted they weren’t going away and formalized the profession. By the time of the Byzantine Empire, lawyers really started coming into their own as they exist today, which I’m sure was merely coincidental in its proximity to the gradual decline and fall of western civilization.
Today’s courtrooms, though bedecked in solemnity and steeped in tradition, aren’t really that far removed from the trial by combat systems. It’s just another form of fighting to see who can win over the minds of the jury. Wager of Battel meets Greek orator. But instead of swords and quarterstaffs the battle takes place with lies, half-truths, and obfuscations. Distort the facts, win at any cost, and take home the fat paycheck.
But this isn’t what I wanted to talk about.
No, I just want to ask a question. What is it about our system that makes us think we can take from an entire profession of people who are paid to lie, run them through a political process designed to corrupt, and turn out the personages who we then deem to be the most trustworthy individuals in our society? I point to the election of judges.
We look up to judges. We consider that their opinions are well considered, free of bias and bigotry, and more than that we think of them as upholding the truth and dignity of the law. But the fact is that a judge is just a lawyer in a dress. His gravitas comes a lot more from the holsters of the bailiffs than the transformative effect of having outspent his opponent in the last election cycle. This is, in fact the main reason most sitting judges run unopposed. The lawyers who covet their jobs don’t dare run against them for fear of how that and other judges would treat them should they lose.
My opinion is that judges should be pulled from civil service instead of elected from the gladiatorial class. Perhaps there should be an entirely separate career chain that terminates in judges and never intersects with the public sector. Remove politics from the equation entirely. It might not be easy or convenient, but it could go a long way towards restoring the trust and belief in our legal system.
For the sake of transparency, I lived with a lawyer who became a judge for 14 years. He seemed to feel that the notion of personal responsibility was a tool of class warfare against the wealthy. Yeah, that’s the guy I want presiding over cases in my town. Of course I don’t think he’s managed to get much further than traffic court in the fifteen or so years he’s been wearing the gown — I imagine I’d rather just pay the fine than end up there.
I wonder if he’d make me promise I wasn’t under the influence of witchcraft?
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Finally, here’s a piece of fan art from uber-cool dude Glen Waters, highlighting one of the jokes from Strip # 177. Thanks a lot Glen, it’s fantastic!