Thursday, April 17, 2014

Worldbuilding: Laws, Rights and the Wheels of Justice

Yesterday, I was summoned for jury duty.  This meant I arrived as required, along with twenty-three other people, sat around for a bit, and then had a clerk, a judge and a prosecuting attorney all tell us what a good and important service we were providing.  After a series of asking-the-whole group vague questions from the prosecutor, the jury of six was selected from the twenty-four, and the rest of us went on our way.

All this, mind you, for a speeding ticket.

Which made the whole exercise a fascinating bit of theatre of the absurd. 

Because while you have the right to a trial-by-jury even for a speeding ticket, it's a right that most people would never exercise, because-- it's a speeding ticket.  Forcing it to go to trial-by-jury is probably a massive waste of time and resources.

And yet, we do it.  We go through the whole dance for small matters to demonstrate why it's so important for larger ones. 

To bring that around to worldbuilding-- how the laws and rights your cultures enact, as well as how they are enforced and enshrined, says a lot about how that culture operates.  For example, when someone is accused of a crime, is it the burden of the state to prove their guilt, or the burden of the accused to prove their innocence?   And what will guilt or innocence mean?  In the world of Maradaine, the Kieran Empire is a true plutocracy, to the point where all crimes are punished with a fine.  If someone cannot afford their fine, they are sentenced to a slave work camp to earn it off.  So the rich can afford to do whatever they want, for all intents.

Druthal, and the city of Maradaine, has a system of more complex laws and enshrined rights.  Their justice system is very much based on the presumption of innocence and keeping law enforcement in check.  This comes as a reaction to the period in their history shortly before a total overhaul and reformation of the government, where agents of law enforcement had nearly unlimited power to arrest and incarcerate at whim.  So the "modern" Druthal defined its laws under the premise that preventing those abuses is the paramount concern for continued freedom of the populace.  Even their equivalent of the Right to Bear Arms is predicated on the notion that a person has the right to defend themselves if being arrested unjustly.

I did all this because, in part, I wanted something different from the top-down of the standard fantasy situation where the king has unchecked power, and being king makes one the absolute authority.  I also did it because I wanted A Murder of Mages to be a story in which the constabulary are bound by rules of what they can and cannot do.  Without their authority in check, the characters could take whatever action they saw fit, without limitation. That wouldn't be an interesting story.

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