Arylon's Justice System
by Scott Bonner
Arylon began with the primitive system whereby members of a given neighborhood take disputes to local elders. In time many of the elders began charging for their decisions. With each army that came through Arylon to fight in the Fields of the Dead, more militaristic concepts of justice seeped into the system, and it became progressively more organized. Under Amnian rule, the system became professional and hierarchical. And, in slow continuation of this process, the complex system of Arylonian justice evolved.
Currently, there are twenty professional justices in Arylon. There are five High Magistrates, wielding immense power and occupying the highest level of Arylonian political society. These men serve as judges to the lesser judges, try the most difficult appeals cases, and control administrative and policy issues. They serve as overseers for the city council and serve as the linchpins for the legal apparatus. There is no higher court in Arylon.
Beneath the High Magistrates are the Ward Judges, one for each of the five wards. These individuals are less political than the Magistrates, although still not without political motivation. They wield impressive legal power in their wards, with some specific exceptions, and tend to be more committed to the abstract concept of justice as opposed to the political construct of justice. These select few are in charge of the daily operations of justice, reviewing specific cases, hearing appeals, judging new cases when lesser judges are overloaded, overseeing the scribes and secretaries that record justice, and helping to choose new justices.
Finally, each ward has lesser Borough Judges, called simply Judges, to shoulder the bulk of cases to be tried. These are separate and subordinate to the Ward Judges. Inner and Dock wards each have three, Sunrise Ward has two, and Field and Rivergate Wards each have one. These are the practical dispensers of justice, busy with cases most of the year, particularly as trade season peaks, and more solidly connected to the people of their neighborhood. Indeed, a Borough Judge must live within the borough he or she serves. Though they are the lowest of judges, they are immensely respected and sometimes feared by the people of Arylon.
Borough Judges hold court within their wards, most from the gatehouses that serve as local headquarters for the Silver Crescents. Each of the wards beyond the walls have their courts set up in the gatehouse of the gate that accesses their ward. Dock ward has two gatehouses for its Borough Judges, one at the Promenade Gate and one at a barracks house at the center of the docks. Inner Ward houses Borough Judges in Justice Hall.
The Ward Judges each serve within their wards, too, sometimes from within the gatehouses and sometimes from private structures near to those gates. The exception to this system is the Field Ward Judge, who keeps office in Justice Hall. Additionally, each Ward Judge has a secondary office in Justice Hall, except, of course, the Field Ward Judge.
Each of the High Magistrates operates from either their offices in Justice Hall or from private residences within Inner Ward. All of the current High Magistrates are from Inner Ward, i.e. wealthy, homes.
Essential to understanding Arylonian justice is acceptance of the concept of judges having complete control over the justice system. In every stage of Arylon's development, the judges have increased in authority and power within the courtroom. Now they have few restrictions on how they run each trial, only vague guidelines on which punishments fit which crimes, and authority to pronounce the defendant guilty or innocent as soon as the minimal trial requirements are met. The system is based on trust and respect.
New judges must be "sponsored" in by a current judge of equal or greater rank on the three-tiered system. Usually the High Council will also arrange interviews with citizens of a given district or ward, but they are not required to do so. It can take months and months, or it can take a couple of days, depending on demand for a new judge and how well the High Magistrates know the petitioner.
High Magistrates appoint all judges, including replacing High Magistrates. However, the city council can reject the appointment of a new High Magistrate (within 1 tenday) by a 2/3-majority vote. The City Council has no other control over who is a judge.
Law dictates there must be 5 High Magistrates and 5 Ward Judges. The number of lesser judges can be changed by petition of the Ward Judge responsible for the district the new judge would serve, as demand requires. The High Magistrates and the City Council must approve a change in number of lesser judges.
Just as the council has veto power over judiciary appointments, the High Magistrates can reverse a new appointment to the Council (within 1 tenday) by a 2/3-majority vote.
There are two controls on a judge's power. First, there is a rudimentary appeals system, to be discussed below. Second, each Borough Judge is watched over by the Ward Judge, and all lesser judges are watched over and can be removed from office by the High Magistrates acting together. The Magistrates, in turn, watch each other and are occasionally monitored by the city council.
Recently, Altor Brand, a consultant from Waterdeep, has made strong efforts to reform the system, to take power away from judges by making the system more consistent and rigid. See the Code Civil for details. Both trial and punishment are swift in Arylon. When arrested by the Crescents, an individual may be tried immediately or may have a wait of no more than ten days before trial. The nature of the crime determines the speed of trial, with major crimes or complex cases taking longer than lesser or straightforward cases. Most cases are tried within 48 hours of arrest.
In the courtroom, judges are required to let the prosecution, usually the Silver Crescents making an arrest and their immediate officer, speak for at least fifteen minutes, and longer at the judge's discretion. Then the defense, usually only the accused and a few supporters, may speak for at least fifteen minutes, longer as the judge allows. Then, each side has a five minute rebuttal. At any point in this process and after, the judge asks questions of both sides. In major cases, such as murder or treason, the judge will usually let each side ask questions of the other as well, in an orderly manner. Then the judge will proclaim responsibility and punishment. Trials last as little as twenty minutes, if both sides do not use up all time allotted, or as many days as the judge deems necessary.
Also important to this process is the Speaker of the Court, or Court Speaker. This person is an unofficial advisor, hired by either the defense or the prosecution to organize the case and influence the trial process. They are usually retired scribes of the court, but are occasionally retired judges or individuals who have not worked for the court in any capacity. Most judges disdain the use of Court Speakers, and will disallow them in lesser cases and only grudgingly allow them in more important cases. Sometimes, the use of a Court Speaker may actually work against the interested party. Any individual may hire a court speaker, but only the judge decides if they are allowed. The Silver Crescents never use them, but do have officers trained to perform this function. Defendants often try to use them, but rarely are allowed.
Once sentence is pronounced punishment is carried out immediately. The exceptions are in cases where the punishment is death, banishment, or mutilation, in which case the court waits 24 to 48 hours to carry out sentence to allow for appeal.
The appeal started as a political maneuver. In 1180, Grand Magister Dartlansh, the fourth ruler of Arylon appointed by Amn and head of that era's justice system, instated appeals as an attempt to control the justice system and therefore gain favor and political power from Arylon's wealthy. Under the system of the time, Arylon had many judges of equal power and the Grand Magister to oversee them. Dartlansh devised a rule whereby the prosecution, defense, or Grand Magister could call for immediate retrial of any case, with the Grand Magister deciding whether or not to take the case, and with the Grand Magister to be judge of the appeal. When Dartlansh was deposed by Amn for other corrupt practices, the next Grand Magister kept the system, reforming it significantly by appointing a separate individual to judge appeals cases, creating what eventually became the Ward Judge position. In time, the appeals process went through more reforms and was adopted into the current justice system.
When a Borough Judge finishes a case, the sentence is carried out immediately, excepting banishment, death, or mutilation, as explained above. After the case is done, either the prosecution or the defense can ask to have the case retried in an attempt to reverse the decision. The defense can attempt to gain reimbursement for fines and other punishments if they succeed, or in cases involving banishment, death, or mutilation to stop the punishment from occurring. The prosecution can attempt to get a second chance to convict with a Ward Judge to oversee the case.
But filing an appeal is not without risk. The appeal hearing, where the side making the appeal attempts to get the Ward Judge to try the case, is quick and simple. The Ward Judge will let the appealing party speak for at least 10 minutes and longer at the judge's discretion. Then the other party will speak for at least ten minutes at the Ward Judge's discretion. If the Ward Judge agrees to try the case, depending on circumstances pending punishment is suspended or the defendant will continue to be held. If the judge declines to retry the case, the party that made the appeal, whether prosecution or defense, will receive a 100 to 500 GP fine for wasting the judge's time, price set by the judge. If prosecution gets this fine, then the Silver Crescents will take the cost out of the pay of whoever made the decision to seek appeal.
Then the second trial begins, presided over by the Ward Judge and following the same time requirements as a Borough Judge's case.
The defendant, but not the prosecution, may ask for a second appeal. The process is the same in every way, only a High Magistrate will preside over the appeal hearing and the subsequent case. Additionally, the defendant must pay 100 GP for the appeal hearing itself, and if the appeal is rejected, as almost all are, the defendant can be charged 100 to 1,000 GP for wasting the High Magistrate's time. Only wealthy defendants can afford a second appeal or the risk involved if that appeal is rejected. The High Magistrate's decision is binding. No further appeals are possible. Sentence, whatever it is, will be carried out immediately. Mutilation and death sentences are carried out on a stage about 300 yards west of Justice Hall. Usually they are carried out at dawn, just as the shadow from the Hall's west wing moves off the stage. The man who devised this time and place for harsh justice was a devoted follower of both Tyr and Lathander.