Category Archives: Sci-fi/popular culture

Vampire Property Law: fiend simple absolute in possession?

[This is an updated version of something I wrote in 2021, on vampires and property law]

I can’t believe that it has taken me until now to bring together two important themes in my life: Land Law (taught it almost my whole academic career) and vampire stories (Dracula, Buffy, more versions of Dracula, the Vampyre, Carmilla, even Twilight – despite Bella Swan). What is there to say about Land Law and Vampires? Well, it dawned (!) on me as I watched an episode of latest fun trashy binge-watch The Vampire Diaries, (no, not even mildly embarrassed … vampires are cool and sexy and fascinating, especially when not the tortured goody-goody type, and obviously beat werewolves any day) that there are lots of unanswered points (!) in relation to the Undead and their interactions with systems of property.

 

(Vampires outside a house …)

Can I come in?

Yes, that one. It’s a common ‘rule of the game’ that a vampire cannot come into a home unless invited. From the point of view of suspense and narrative, it’s great – because often the person in the house doesn’t know the stranger on the doorstep is a vampire, and we groan at the uninformed acquiescence (because there’s no idea of informed consent here, is there?) as the vampire gains freedom to enter at will. Also, there is the comedy potential of a vampire denied entry walking into an invisible barrier.

The Vampire Diaries makes great play of this, and there are certainly resonances for those of us involved in another area regarded as a little … undead … – Land Law. In series one, Damon (everyone’s favourite evil-but-good-but-evil vampire) and Alaric (slightly Harrison Ford-ish human with a magic ring – actually played by the bonehead boyfriend from another jurisprudential classic, Legally Blonde) banter about the rule, revealing that there are some doubts as to exactly who has the right to invite somebody in, in particular with regard to short term lets, motels etc. s.2 ep. 18 went totally for the Venn diagram overlap between vampires and Land Law, by having a conveyance of a house to (slightly drippy but alive and human) Elena, so that she could use her right to invite/refuse to keep out undesirable vampires, but let in her then paramour, Stefan (he of the tortured soul, frequently demonstrated by moping in a tight vest) and other vampire allies.

There is more right-of-entry-related fun in later series. Season 7, for example, goes for it in a big way. In episode 2, Lily, vampire mother of Stefan and Damon Salvatore, during an evil phase, keeps her sons out of the house by signing it over to a compelled Matt Donovan (a rather dim human) and making him refuse them entry. Thrillingly, there is talk of land registration (be still my apparently not undead beating heart)! And also a nugget on the workings of the whole thing – apparently if human Matt were killed and then brought back to life, that would simply ‘open the door’ – so, the seals would not go back up when he returned from the dead. [Issues of property entitlements, succession and return from the dead could, frankly, be fleshed out rather more …] Another human registered proprietor for the Salvatore house (for the same reason as Matt) is the compelled cleaner, Lucy (season 7 ep. 6). [I do wonder how to categorise the interests of Lily’s family in the house – un-life tenants?] Another house which features some property-based refusal of entry issues is the place Bonnie Bennett bought to keep drippy Elena’s coma-coffin, and wanted to use as a love nest for herself and dodgily accented vampire Enzo. In s. 8 ep. 11, Stefan (in an evil phase – keep up!) somehow managed to have title transferred away from Bonnie, thus allowing him to get in, shutting Enzo out and leaving the latter vulnerable to slaughter. I don’t claim any knowledge at all of the property law of New York, so don’t really understand how it is that the realtor has the ability to assume title of the property, but that is what happens (she is, of course, compelled – interesting to wonder how vampire compulsion could be brought up in a property dispute …)

Good stuff, but still so much that we need to know, e.g. …

To which buildings does the rule apply?

  • The stories are mostly, if not all, about homes. So are commercial premises ruled out (along the lines of rules restraining mortgage repossessions etc.? And what of a ‘mixed use’ property? Vampire story writers, I encourage you to look up the case law on ‘dwelling house’ under the Administration of Justice Act 1973 s.8 (or equivalent in your jurisdiction).
  • And what of static caravans? These might be regarded as chattels rather than fixtures. Does the rule apply?

Can we have a little more detail on the right to invite?

  • Is legal title required before a person has the right to invite?
  • Can one of two co-owners invite a vampire in? (This, shockingly, is not mentioned in the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 – unless we consider it to come under ‘powers of an owner’. Surely it would be a breach of trust, though.
  • What about houses subject to a mortgage? Or a long leasehold? Could a vampire move in to one house and acquire an easement to enter neighbouring properties? How would a licence for vampire entry work with s. 62 of the Law of Property Act on reconveyance? So many unanswered questions …
  • Given Manchester Airport v. Dutton [1999] EWCA 844, can a mere licensee invite a vampire in?
  • What happens when the house is sold, or if the ‘inviter’ dies and the property passes to a donee? Is a new invitation required?
  • Can conditions be placed upon an invitation?
  • Does an invitation to a vampire to enter amount to severance of an equitable joint tenancy (as well as likely severance of a carotid artery)?
  • Can vampires keep their own homes, i.e. the ones they had prior to being ‘turned’? This seems to be assumed, but why is it that they do not lose their rights on becoming technically dead, the right passing to the (living) person entitled under a will or intestacy, enabling that person to shut them out?
  • Could a vampire ever be ‘in actual occupation’ for the purposes of Sch. 3 para. 3 of the Land Registration Act? It doesn’t specifically say that life is required …
  • What happens if a vampire is granted a life interest in land?
  • Could a vampire ever acquire an easement by prescription, or would it always fall down on the nec vi, nec clam, nec precario thing (since any prescribing would be done at night, with force, and possibly with (compelled/sneakily acquired) permission?
  • Finally, bringing in Legal History as well … Given that the undead ‘live’ (exist? un-die?) rather a long time (as long as they avoid staking etc.), and that regimes of property law can change, how do we decide what is the correct set of Land Law rules to apply to all of this. Is the critical date that of the vampire’s turning, of the building of the house, or the current date? And where would any disputes be taken? I am sure there is a whole issue about standing of and jurisdiction over the undead which needs to be sorted out.

(Vampires clearly inside a house …)

There’s just so much we need to know, isn’t there? And very oddly, there is not much in the way of existing scholarship.[i] Too much other stuff to do at the moment, but, like the undead, my article on Vampire Property Law for the Mystic Falls Law Review is a project which will keep (as long as it avoids direct sunlight, decapitation, or a stake through the heart …)

GS

11/3/2021

updated 20/1/2022

 

(Main Image – what is very obviously a vampire, from an AALT scan of a Common Pleas roll of 1489: ‘vampires and legal history’ is a thing. Don’t get me started on ‘mortmain’ …)

 

[i] Honourable exceptions in terms of general law/vampire study: Anne McGillivray’s ‘”He would have made a wonderful solicitor”: law, modernity and professionalism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘, in Lawyers and Vampires : Cultural Histories of Legal Professions, edited by David Sugarman, and W. W. Pue, (2004), c. 9; Anthony Bradney . ‘Choosing laws, choosing families: images of law, love and authority in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Web J.C.L.I. 2003, 2).

‘No Freman …’: Frank Herbert’s Dune Novels, the Updated Unofficial Legal Historical View

 

It has long struck me that science fiction/fantasy is an interesting source for submerged ideas about the legal past. Many of them have ‘sort-of-medieval’ societies, which are set up using assumptions and constructions about medieval law, and other legal ideas can be detected too. The Dune novels of Frank Herbert[1] cover a great sprawl of imagined time and space, in a far-future in which there are multiple planets with human(oid) civilisation. There are various massive changes over the six books in terms of forms of government and social organisation, and focus changes between various groups and individuals. They include numerous references and clues to the legal underpinnings of the various societies involved. These come from a particular perspective – that of the ‘western’ male of the mid-twentieth century, and from a society in which Anglo-American law is a formative influence. Whatever is the equivalent of the ‘Overton window’ for imagination is limited for all of us by such a background, and it is possible to see numerous debts to ideas about law which are clearly based on popular perceptions from Herbert’s own time, as well as that time’s popular perceptions of the legal past. I have enjoyed thinking about this, and I think that there is scope for much further consideration of sci-fi/fantasy as a source or prompt for Legal History.

Here, for what they are worth, are my thoughts.

In the period of the first book, the main systems of law/norms which we see are (i) what I would call the ‘general law’ – overarching rules applying to the Imperium and its constituent parts; and (ii) the specific laws/customs of the Fremen of Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune, a desert-living people, the conception of whom owes much to a 1960s US conception of Arab peoples, viewed through the lens of the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

The basic constitutional set-up is that there is an emperor, and a set of hereditary rulers of planets, or planetary systems, owing allegiance to the emperor (leaders of the Great Houses and the Minor Houses). We don’t hear much about the lower orders – though there are definitely slaves.[2] In Dune, the ‘basic law’ governing relationships here is the Great Convention (GC), a ’universal truce enforced under power balance maintained by Guild, Great Houses and Imperium’.[3] It is not quite clear how detailed this is: is this a ‘codified’ legal world’ – should I be thinking of sometihng the length of Magna Carta or something more like the Code Napoléon? Another source of law is legislation by the Landsraad, which seems to be a sort of parliament.[4] There are also imperial Orders in Council.[5]  And public law fans everywhere will be thrilled to learn that there is some rumbling about wanting a proper written constitution.[6] After the first book, things get a bit messier, and there is much more tyranny, much less in the way of widely-agreed rules.

An aspect of the system-building in Dune that I like is the mixing of ideas of hereditary rule with those of corporate law and structure. The relationship between the emperor and the Great Houses is complicated by the presence of a corporate vehicle, CHOAM. Shares, and corporate roles, in this huge development company go along with position in the hereditary structure. I suppose what appeals to me about this is the idea that the crown and hereditary power organisational model is not some sort of high-minded ‘noble’ thing, above the fray capitalist structures: it is all about the money, and employs whatever legal vehicles maximise profits for a limited group of people.[7]

Law and tyranny:  ‘Law is the ultimate science’[8]

It would be safe to say that there is not a particularly positive view of law, overall. We have various statements to the effect that law does not work, or is counter-productive (often, it must be said, from those who would rather not be fettered by any silly rule-of-law nonsense …) Thus, once he is emperor, Paul Atreides is not very keen on the idea of a constitution (which would of course, tie his hands somewhat): ‘Constitutions become the ultimate tyranny’.[9] Convenient. Just begging for a ‘discuss’, isn’t it?  Jessica and Alia agonise over the law/religion/government relationship.[10] The Bene Gesserit Sisters also have an idea that they are above the law, obeying a higher morality.[11]

More general and unfocused law-slagging-off can be seen, e.g. here: ‘What is law? Control? … Law – our highest ideal and our basest nature/ Don’t look too closely at the law. Do and you’ll find the rationalized interpretations, the legal casuistry, the precedents of convenience. You’ll find the serenity which is just another word for death’.[12]

Often, a dim view is taken of the utility of law (which, in a slightly inexact/lazy twentieth century view seems to mean positive, statutory, criminal, law): ‘Laws to suppress tend to strengthen what they would prohibit.’[13] This is coupled with a slur against the legal profession (otherwise notably absent) which seems a bit lazy and out of place – ‘…This is the fine print on which all the legal professions of history have based their job security’.[14]

The rather limited view of law on display clearly does not involve any room for discretion, mercy, equity. These things have to be supplied from without: ‘Laws are dangerous to everyone – innocent and guilty alike… They have no human understanding in and of themselves … Laws must always be interpreted. The law-bound want no latitude for compassion. No elbow room. The law is the Law!’[15] Apparently legal history scholarship on mercy, pardons, equity, will not survive into the time of the Duniverse …

The God-Emperor Leto II rather gives up on law as a tool of control, preferring religion as a way of keeping people occupied and in order.[16] He sees a need for (civil) law in cities, where ‘many injuries occur’, but there is a significant ‘downside’: ‘ The law develops its own power structure, creating more wounds and new injustices’.

On a more technical legal-scholarship level, I am not sure what public lawyer colleagues would make of the attempts to differentiate ‘law’ and ‘regulation’ in a discussion between a BG sister and the chief Honoured Matre in the last book: ‘If you do not see the difference between regulation and law, both have the force of law/’[17] (Eh?) The following account definitely does not fit in with ideas about Law in historical context: ‘Laws convey the myth of enforced change. A bright new future will come because of this law and that one. Laws enforce the future. Regulations are believed to enforce the past’.[18] Another relevant distinction is that between law and custom. In the first book in particular, we see customary law amongst the Fremen (more below). There is even the odd bit of jurisprudence – an undead philosopher trashes natural law and has a go at classic seminar question ‘What is justice?’.[19]

Substantive legal rules

Many of these are alluded to through the series. I will note just a few here.

In terms of content, the GC includes rules, each beginning ‘‘the forms must be obeyed’.[20] The chief rule is that no atomic weapons to be used against a human target. The penalty for transgression is planetary obliteration.[21] A much later summary of the rule is ‘You blast anyone and we unite to blast you’.[22] Some weapons appear to be on the edge of legality under this rule, particularly the ‘stone-burner’ (radioactive, deadly, blinding …).[23] There is also the Dictum Familia – setting up the rules on non-prohibited assassination (because informal treachery would be really bad …) and strict rules about kanly (feud or vendetta), involving swearing kanly, and then being entitled to kill all agents of the House against which it has been sworn.[24]

The general thrust, then, seems to be an agreement which does not aspire to genuine peace, but tries to keep a lid on excessive disorder by setting a few rules. The kanly idea has certain resonances with ideas about the early medieval period, and the assumed ubiquity of the ‘blood feud’, but with no real central effort to channel people’s grievances towards compensation rather than vengeance (as we see in many compensation-tariff codes set out by central authorities across western Europe in this period).[25]

The GC also includes rules against computers (artificial intelligence having somehow sparked off the ‘Butlerian jihad’, a major upheaval …) and there is an exhortation to ‘Make no device in the likeness of the mind’.[26] Rather of its time in terms of Legal History – the genie is rather too far out of the bottle for this to be a possibility in our future.

Other aspects of organisation are not explicitly tied to the GC or particular legislation, but seem to have the status of law. Family law and succession are clearly important. There is an idea of monogamous marriage, but also other forms of relationship amongst the ruling classes. Baron Harkonnen seems to favour young male partners, and nobody seems to be bothered.[27] The series generally portrays heterosexual pairings, which, I suppose, is characteristic of limits on imagination at this period, as well as being tied to its disturbing obsession with breeding (eugenics really).[28] There is a hint of rape-myth thinking in a statement about submission ‘to a form of rape at first only to convert this into a deep and binding mutual dependence’.[29] Don’t think so, though such views can certainly be dredged up from any study of the history of rape. Probably the most disturbing aspect of sexual behaviour which appears in the series is the not-really-condemned ‘initiation’/ abuse of a male child by an older woman in book VI – perhaps we are supposed to think that this is not wholly abusive and grim because the child is a reincarnated version of somebody who was previously mature. Clearly terrible. A reminder that there were some very wrong ideas about this sort of thing floating about in the not-too-distant past.

Powerful men may have a concubine, and this is a relatively respectable position. Jessica is described as the concubine, or formal concubine, or bound concubine  of Duke Leto (who is unmarried, for political reasons).  As concubine, Jessica has a degree of power and respect, and her son, Paul, is regarded as legal heir to the Dukedom, and then rightful Duke, and Alia Leto’s legal daughter.[30] Still, it is a bit of an unsatisfactory position, even if Leto charmingly tells her that she is actually better off because he hasn’t married her (it seems to be his choice …) as that means she doesn’t have to eat formally with him every night.[31] The pattern is repeated in the next generation: Paul is ‘with’ his Fremen woman, Chani, but is going to marry the Emperor’s heiress, Princess Irulan. It’s OK though, because ‘this is a political thing … [and] that princess shall have no more of me than my name.’ [no sex, no kids – and the name thing shows that gender trumps rank …][32]

There are a few statements about property which are worth noting, in particular in the last book. In a fascinating exchange between the BG Mother Superior, Odrade, and a ghola (much reincarnated being), Teg, the view is expressed that ‘Ownership is an interesting question’, and it is asked  ‘Do we own this planet, or does it own us?’[33] Not a million miles away from some of the discussions arising in modern, thoughtful, Land Law work, which takes in the perspectives of indigenous peoples. Likewise the interpretation of the relationship between the BG and the planet they inhabit as one of ‘stewardship’.[34]

Fre-dom

We are invited – implicitly – to contrast the laws and treachery of the rest of the universe with the honour and law of the semi-nomadic Fremen. There is more than a touch of orientalism/romanticising the ‘primitive’ about this (and before we dismiss the latter as a term we would never use now, I did notice ‘ancient and primitive law’ as a heading within the classification system at a library last week). The laws and customs of the Fremen are strange to outsiders at first, but the suggestion is that they are logical responses to their unforgiving environment, with its extreme shortage of water. I don’t think we are supposed to see the Fremen as misogynist, but some of their rules definitely show the perspective of a man of the mid-20th C. No hint of Frewomen’s Liberation …

They may be Fre, but the Fremen are not individualistic. It is all about the group’s survival, and getting and retaining water.  The overall rule is: ‘A man’s flesh is his own; the water belongs to the tribe’.[35] Leading on from this, those who are net takers of water without providing anything to the group may be sacrificed, and rendered down for their moisture,[36] and the blind ought to be abandoned in the desert, presumably for similar reasons.[37] Taking it a step further, in a sense, it was, at least at one time, the case that ‘someone caught outside the sietch without a stillsuit was automatically killed. To waste water was to endanger the tribe.’[38]

Despite the whole group thing, there is also some sort of individual property right in water. Paul is entitled to the water of a defeated adversary, and Jessica retains rights in the bottled water she brought with her. Giving some of it up to the others whilst in the desert will be compensated tenfold when they get to the Fremen settlement.[39] There are also tokens for water from the common stock, which are involved in courtship (I love you so much I am giving you the moisture captured from somebody’s squished flesh ..). There also seems to be a limited idea of property in chattels – so things belong to people, but are shared out by the leader when somebody dies.[40]

Keeping one’s word is a big deal, and there is a consciousness of being especially honourable in this respect. Contracts are, of necessity, oral.[41] [No specialty rule for the Fremen …]

The Fremen use trial by combat not (just?) for things we would think of as legal, but to determine truth, under the ‘amtal rule’.[42]  Combat seems to be an all male affair,[43] and is to the death. Intriguingly, there is an echo of medieval trial by combat procedure, in that it has to be ensured beforehand that Jessica, who has the special powers of a Bene Gesserit ‘witch’, will not put a spell on a combatant.[44] There is also some form of ordeal – as when Jessica shows she is fit to be a Reverend Mother (this ordeal rather resembling the ordeal of the bitter waters, Numbers 5:11-31).[45] Ordeals are not confined to the Fremen: Paul is also tested by a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, to check his humanity (didn’t quite get that …) in a fancy process involving a poison needle and a box of (artificial) pain (if you can have artificial pain ..physiological/philosophical rabbit hole there …). Bit of a step up from hot iron, ploughshares and holy morsels of medieval European ordeals. Interestingly this is not founded on an appeal to God, but on psychological understanding of what humans and animals would do differently.[46]

Anyway, back to the Fremen. Combat is also the way one leader takes over from the last. The Fremen do not have hereditary leadership, but rather the strongest person (well, man) leads: ‘the one who brings water and security’.[47] Paul manages to change the rule, so he doesn’t have to kill Stilgar to lead. Instead, he has Stilgar go through what looks like a homage ceremony, kneeling, handing over his knife, swearing fealty.[48] Hmm – doesn’t sound that Fre to me …

Except there is relatively Fre love. For the men anyway. And assuming that they like women. At least there is a convention that women ‘are not taken against their will’.[49]  Nevertheless, there are certainly situations in which men get to do the choosing as to relationships – we see this after (15 year old) Paul beats Jamis in combat, and gets to decide whether to have his widow as his woman or his servant, or free her.[50] And families appear to decide who a Fremen woman will marry (relatively young).[51] So – not as fre-ly consensual as all that. Another aspect of Fremen Family Law which emerges is that there is a rule against incest: the death penalty (hanging on a tripod) applies to incest.[52] Exactly what amounts to incest is unclear, beyond the example of brother and sister which is the matter in hand in the passage relating to this law. One would have thought that the structure of society would have meant quite a lot of in-marriage within tribes, so the rules would have to be restricted to a small number of banned relationships.

One practical issue which is not addressed is how exactly initmacy works – I don’t mean the complex business of getting into somebody’s stillsuit, but the water issue. They are all so cautious about losing moisture, but there is the issue of, well, fluids involved in ‘the huddlings of sex’,[53] isn’t there?

Law, religion, witchcraft and eugenics: the Bene Gesserit

One of the groups involved in power and overthrow of power is called the Bene Gesserit. Not quite clear to me why that name would have been chosen – it alludes to good behaviour, and for legal historians has resonance with the commission to judges that they shall keep their role as long as they do not misbehave (as opposed to serving as long as the monarch pleases, the older, pre-17th C, rule which made it simpler to remove them). This has been taken to be important for judicial independence (though it can be exaggerated, because it does nothing to ensure that those who are appointed in the first place are independent types rather than subservient ones). I am not quite sure what that has to do with the Bene Gesserit in the Dune books, who are an order of women with highly trained physical and especially mental capacities. They are associated repeatedly with another rather 17th C-resonant thing, though: witchcraft. They are forever being called witches, and we even get a very witch-hunty citation of ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ at one point.[54] They have a sort of ‘evil twin’ organisation – the Honoured Matres – in later books, these women being possessed of various skills including deadly foot-fighting abilities and extraordinary sexual abilities, but not particularly interesting from a legal/historical point of view. The BG are supposed to be sort-of sympathetic, but manipulative in terms of religion and mad-keen on eugenics (even though the little ladies don’t always get this right …and it is slipped in that their massive breeding programme apparently involves killing some children).[55]

 

History

Some glimpses of modern popular attitudes to history come through as well. There is a nice episode involving the emperor/tyrant/ weird wormy slug man, Leto II and some historians: he executed them, he said, ‘because they lied pretentiously’.[56] This was not your actual vivicombustion[57] though, so that was better than it might have been, he tells us. Not quite clear what was wrong with their work, but I might be able to think of one or two historical works which might conceivably fall into the category ‘pretentious’ … will say no more.

There is some more general comment on history. Partly it’s a bit trite (and borderline Toryish grumbling about historians revising things …in the wrong way):

‘Historians exercise great power and some of them know it. They recreate the past, changing it to fit their own interpretations. Thus they change the future as well.’[58]

I do think that there is a nice bit of insight/prescience about the way a lot of popular history has gone in a quotation put into the Chronicles of the Bene Gesserit Chapterhouse, which seems a fitting place to end:

‘The ease with which historians can be captivated is explained in part by the fact that bloody events exert a magnetic attraction on humankind. Historians … cater to that ancient human desire you see manifested in the mobs gawking at executions or pepople stopping to stare at the scene of an accident. Historians have the added incentive that catering to this bloody attraction often produces wealth and power. It is popular. Digging deeply into obscure events and the secret machinations of unknown people is not only more difficult, it is observably dangerous to careers’.[59]

I cannot say that working on some of the more grisly aspects of medieval law has brought me wealth or power, but there is some truth here, and it is certainly worth bearing in mind, as I return to the other thing I promised myself I would finish off today, on medieval petty treason (ft. burning at the stake) …

 

A Better New Year to us all: repeat it with me …

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

GS

31st December 2021.

 

 

Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash (Disclaimer – I admit that this is not actually the planet Dune …)

[1] I have read only the six novels by Herbert himself: Dune (1965) = I, Dune Messiah (1969 = II); Children of Dune (1976) = III; God Emperor of Dune (1981) = IV; Heretics of Dune (1984) = V; Chapterhouse Dune (1985 = VI). One day I may get around to reading the various sequels and prequels by others, but there is a limit to my current capacity for nerdery.

[2] I: 39. And obviously he does say ‘slaves’ rather than ‘enslaved people’. 1960s.

[3] I: 596.

[4] II: 75

[5] II: 76.

[6] II, 76.

[7] CHOAM rather fades from view in later novels, I am afraid, fans of company law/legal history.

[8] I: 252 ‘Thus it reads above the Emperor’s door’.

[9] II: 76.

[10] II: 252.

[11] VI: 154, Lucilla.

[12] II: 249.

[13] VI, 119.

[14] ibid. ‘Bene Gesserit Coda’. Sounds more like a grumpy, easy, 20th C thing to say, lashing out at ‘the lawyers’ .. might do as an exam question though!

[15] VI: 154, Lucilla. See also Odrade, 237.

[16] IV: 225.

[17] VI: 152, Lucilla, not really answering the question, it seems to me …

[18] Ibid., and Lucilla again.

[19] II: 151 – Duncan Idaho, a fighter turned zombie type of thing (generally positive character) says of natural law that it is a ‘myth’ that ‘haunts human history’. II: 156 is his go at justice. Fair to say he has no problem with dictatorial power.

[20] I: 596.

[21] I: 514.

[22] VI: 134.

[23] II, 55.

[24] I: 100, 161, 517.

[25] See, e.g. Lisi Oliver, The Body Legal in Barbarian Law (Toronto, 2011).

[26] IV:32.

[27] Duncan Idaho is a big old homophobe though: IV:321.

[28] Limits on the imagniative treatment of scientific development are always interesting – it seemed more likely that a massive, slow, eugenic breeding programme obsessed with ‘Atreides traits’ would be allowed to develop, rather than the ability to alter people more quickly, once born, to get desired characteristics, apparently. The development of living furniture (the ludicrous and unnecessary ‘chairdogs’ was more imaginable than gene-editing …).

[29] IV:209.

[30] I: 54, 57, 589.

[31] I: 54.

[32] I: 561.

[33] VI: 14.

[34] VI: 15.

[35] I: 241.

[36] I: 238, 316-7.

[37] II: 242. Cue a nice bit of legal tricksiness from Paul – he loses his eyes, but initially argues that because he can see with his mystical powers, he doesn’t have to be desert-ed. In the end though, he surrenders to the law, to become properly Fre (though also, to be fair, properly dead). The Fremen Law about sending the blind off into the desert is expressed as consigning them to Shai-Hulud (the great worm) in III:39.

[38] III: 286.

[39] I: 349, 351.

[40] I: 354.

[41] I: 320.

[42] I: 337.

[43] Possibly a little inconsistent with the existence of Fremen amazons – II: 111?

[44] I: 340.

[45] I: 401.

[46] I: 6-9.

[47] I: 328.

[48] I: 489.

[49] I: 330.

[50] I: 389.

[51] III:290.

[52] III:113.

[53] I: 332.

[54] III:58.

[55] V:29.

[56] IV, 70, Year 3508 of reign of Lord Leto, BG Chronicle reports execution of nine historians ‘who disappeared into his Citadel in year 2116 of Lord Leto’s reign… the nine were rendered unconscious then bound on pyres of their own published works.’ See also V:6.

[57] Yes, I have all the vocab – a result of my petty treason work …

[58] V: 403.

[59][59] V:6, Bene Gesserit Chronicles of the Chapter House, from Mother Superior Darwi Odrade’s Argument in Council.

Quamdiu Se Bene Gesserit, or, a legal historian’s view of Dune

Quamdiu Se Bene Gesserit, or, a legal historian’s view of Dune

There is a new film based on Frank Herbert’s Dune in cinemas at the moment. I am still not entirely happy with the idea of ‘sharing moisture’ with a room full of strangers, given the continued pandemic, but I dare say I will see it one day on DVD or streamed. In the meantime I thought I would re-read the books (well, re-read the first one, read the rest – I don’t think I got beyond vol. 1 as a teenager) and see what they say (explicitly and implicitly) about the legal system(s) in the Duniverse. When constructing a whole world, or set of worlds, like this, an author inevitably draws on contemporary ideas about law. They almost always also bring in (contemporary ideas about) legal history, when setting up certain sorts of ‘alien’ civilisation. I am sure there is a way I could use all of this in LH teaching, but, for now, let’s just get down a few thoughts….

[And note – book I has a glossary and Appendices – feels like home!]

Dune is set in a far-future in which there are multiple planets with human(oid) civilisation. After all sorts of war and chaos, things have come to an uneasy setllement. In the first book, this is more ‘uneasy’ than ‘settled’, but there is definitely an idea of what ought to be going on, and a lot of it is explained in terms which will not be familiar to lawyers and legal historians. The main systems of law/norms which we see are (i) what I would call the ‘general law’ – overarching rules applying to the Imperium and its constituent parts; and (ii) the specific laws/customs of the Fremen of Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune, a desert-living people, the conception of whom owes much to a 1960s US conception of Arab peoples, viewed through the lens of the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

The basic constitutional set-up is that there is an emperor, and a set of hereditary rulers of planets, or planetary systems, owing allegiance to the emperor (leaders of the Great Houses and the Minor Houses). We don’t hear much about the lower orders – though there are definitely slaves.[i]

An aspect of the system-building in Dune that I like is the mixing of ideas of hereditary rule with those of corporate law and structure. The relationship between the emperor and the Great Houses is complicated by the presence of a corporate vehicle, CHOAM. Shares, and corporate roles, in this huge development company go along with position in the hereditary structure. I suppose what appeals to me about this is the idea that the crown and hereditary power organisational model is not some sort of high-minded ‘noble’ thing, above the fray capitalist structures: it is all about the money, and employs whatever legal vehicles maximise profits for a limited group of people.

 

‘Law is the ultimate science’[ii]

The ‘basic law’ governing relationships here is the Great Convention (GC). 596 – GC univesal truce enforced under power balance maintained by Guild, Gt Houses and Imperium. It is not quite clear how detailed this is: is this a ‘codified’ legal world’ – should I be thinking of somethng the length of Magna Carta or something more like the Code Napoléon?

In terms of content, the GC includes rules, each beginning ‘‘the forms must be obeyed’.[iii]

  • Chief rule – no atomic weapons to be used against a human target. The penalty is planetary obliteration.[iv] Some weapons appear to be on the edge of legality under this rule, particularly the ‘stone-burner’ (radioactive, deadly, blinding …).[v]
  • Dictum familia – setting up the rules on non-prohibited assassination. Because informal treachery would be bad …
  • rules about kanly (feud or vendetta). There are strict rules. The process involves swearing kanly, and then being entitled to kill all agents of the House against which it has been sworn.[vi]

The general thrust, then, seems to be an agreement which does not aspire to genuine peace, but tries to keep a lid on excessive disorder by setting a few rules. The kanly idea has certain resonances with ideas about the early medieval period, but with no real central effort to channel people’s grievances towards compensation rather than vengeance.

Another source of law is legislation by the Landsraad, which seems to be a sort of parliament.[vii] There are also imperial Orders in Council.[viii]  And public law fans everywhere will be thrilled to learn that there is some rumbling about wanting a proper written constitution.[ix] Once he is emperor, Paul is not very keen on the idea of a constitution (which would of course, tie his hands somewhat).

‘Constitutions become the ultimate tyranny’[x]

Just begging for a ‘discuss’, isn’t it?  Jessica and Alia agonise over the law/religion/government relationship.[xi] Paul, however, is not a great fan of the law – a bit of Marxism, or some such going on here?

‘What is law? Control? … Law – our highest ideal and our basest nature/ Don’t look too closely at the law. Do and you’ll find the rationalized interpretations, the legal casuistry, the precedents of convenience. You’ll find the serenity which is just another word for death’.[xii]

For the legal historians, we have the possibility of investigating the role of custom, in particular with regard to the Fremen, and pondering again the distinction between law and custom … There is even the odd bit of jurisprudence – an undead philosopher trashes natural law and has a go at classic seminar question ‘What is justice?’.[xiii]

Other aspects of organisation are not explicitly tied to the GC or particular legislation, but seem to have the status of law. Family law and succession are clearly important. There is an idea of monogamous marriage, but also other forms of relationship amongst the ruling classes. Baron Harkonnen seems to favour young male partners, and nobody seems to be bothered. Powerful men may have a concubine, and this is a relatively respectable position. Jessica is described as the concubine, or formal concubine, or bound concubine  of Duke Leto (who is unmarried, for political reasons).  As concubine, Jessica has a degree of power and respect, and her son, Paul, is regarded as legal heir to the Dukedom, and then rightful Duke, and Alia Leto’s legal daughter.[xiv] Still, it is a bit of an unsatisfactory position, even if Leto charmingly tells her that she is actually better off because he hasn’t married her (it seems to be his choice …) as that means she doesn’t have to eat formally with him every night.[xv] The pattern is repeated in the next generation: Paul is ‘with’ his Fremen woman, Chani, but is going to marry the Emperor’s heiress, Princess Irulan. It’s OK though, because ‘this is a political thing … [and] that princess shall have no more of me than my name.’ [no sex, no kids – and the name thing shows that gender trumps rank …][xvi]

One of the groups involved in power and overthrow of power is called the Bene Gesserit – thus my title. Not quite clear to me why that name would have been chosen – it alludes to good behaviour, and for legal historians has resonance with the commission to judges that they shall keep their role as long as they do not misbehave (as opposed to serving as long as the monarch pleases, the older, pre-17th C, rule which made it simpler to remove them). This has been taken to be important for judicial independence (though it can be exaggerated, because it does nothing to ensure that those who are appointed in the first place are independent types rather than subservient ones). I am not quite sure what that has to do with the Bene Gesserit in the Dune books, who are an order of women with highly trained physical and especially mental capacities. They are associated repeatedly with another rather 17th C-resonant thing, though: witchcraft. They are forever being called witches, and we even get a very witch-hunty ciration of ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ at one point.[xvii]

We are invited – implicitly – to contrast the laws and treachery of the rest of the universe with the honour and law of the semi-nomadic Fremen. There is more than a touch of orientalism/romanticising the ‘primitive’ about this (and before we dismiss the latter as a term we would never use now, I did notice ‘ancient and primitive law’ as a heading within the classification system at a library last week). The laws and customs of the Fremen are strange to outsiders at first, but the suggestion is that they are logical responses to their unforgiving environment, with its extreme shortage of water. I don’t think we are supposed to see the Fremen as misogynist, but some of their rules definitely show the perspective of a man of the mid-20th C. No hint of Frewomen’s Liberation …

They may be Fre, but the Fremen are not individualistic. It is all about the group’s survival, and getting and retaining water.  The overall rule is: ‘A man’s flesh is his own; the water belongs to the tribe’.[xviii] Leading on from this, those who are net takers of water without providing anything to the group may be sacrificed, and rendered down for their moisture,[xix] and the blind ought to be abandoned in the desert, presumably for similar reasons.[xx] Taking it a step further, in a sense, it was, at least at one time, the case that ‘someone caught outside the sietch without a stillsuit was automatically killed. To waste water was to endanger the tribe.’[xxi]

Despite the whole group thing, there is also some sort of individual property right in water. Paul is entitled to the water of a defeated adversary, and Jessica retains rights in the bottled water she brought with her. Giving some of it up to the others whilst in the desert will be compensated tenfold when they get to the Fremen settlement.[xxii] There are also tokens for water from the common stock, which are involved in courtship (I love you so much I am giving you the moisture captured from somebody’s squished flesh ..). There also seems to be a limited idea of property in chattels – so things belong to people, but are shared out by the leader when somebody dies.[xxiii]

Keeping one’s word is a big deal, and there is a consciousness of being especially honourable in this respect. Contracts are, of necessity, oral.[xxiv] [No specialty rule for the Fremen …]

The Fremen use trial by combat not (just?) for things we would think of as legal, but to determine truth, under the ‘amtal rule’.[xxv]  Combat seems to be an all male affair,[xxvi] and is to the death. Intriguingly, there is an echo of medieval trial by combat procedure, in that it has to be ensured beforehand that Jessica, who has the special powers of a Bene Gesserit ‘witch’, will not put a spell on a combatant.[xxvii] There is also some form of ordeal – as when Jessica shows she is fit to be a Reverend Mother (this ordeal rather resembling the ordeal of the bitter waters, Numbers 5:11-31).[xxviii] Ordeals are not confined to the Fremen: Paul is also tested by a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, to check his humanity (didn’t quite get that …) in a fancy process involving a poison needle and a box of (artificial) pain (if you can have artificial pain ..). Bit of a step up from hot iron, ploughshares and holy morsels of medieval European ordeals. Interestingly this is not founded on an appeal to God, but on psychological understanding of what humans and animals would do differently.[xxix]

Anyway, back to the Fremen. Combat is also the way one leader takes over from the last. The Fremen do not have hereditary leadership, but rather the strongest person (well, man) leads: ‘the one who brings water and security’.[xxx] Paul manages to change the rule, so he doesn’t have to kill Stilgar to lead. Instead, he has Stilgar go through what looks like a homage ceremony, kneeling, handing over his knife, swearing fealty.[xxxi] Hmm – doesn’t sound that Fre to me …

Except there is relatively Fre love. For the men anyway. And assuming that they like women. At least there is a convention that women ‘are not taken against their will’.[xxxii]  Nevertheless, there are certainly situations in which men get to do the choosing as to relationships – we see this after (15 year old) Paul beats Jamis in combat, and gets to decide whether to have his widow as his woman or his servant, or free her.[xxxiii] And families appear to decide who a Fremen woman will marry (relatively young).[xxxiv] So – not as fre-ly consensual as all that. Another aspect of Fremen Family Law which emerges is that there is a rule against incest: the death penalty (hanging on a tripod) applies to incest.[xxxv] Exactly what amounts to incest is unclear, beyond the example of brother and sister which is the matter in hand in the passage relating to this law. One would have thought that the structure of society would have meant quite a lot of in-marriage within tribes, so the rules would have to be restricted to a small number of banned relationships.

One practical issue which is not addressed is how exactly initmacy works – I don’t mean the complex business of getting into somebody’s stillsuit, but the water issue. They are all so cautious about losing moisture, but there is the issue of, well, fluids involved in ‘the huddlings of sex’,[xxxvi] isn’t there?

All of which has wandered off the point a bit – ah well, this is a work in progress, and I shall revise and resubmit after I have read some more.

 

[Miscellaneous points – couldn’t find an obvious place to put these, but they need to be in here somewhere …

  1. Everyone seems to be off their face on the addictive drug spice/melange all the time … Is that any way to run a universe?
  2. They have ruffs – ruffs![xxxvii] Sorry – they are never coming back, however far in the future. I make no secret of my extremist anti-ruff stance … Preposterous!]

 

GS

6/11/2021

Updated 19/11/2021, after reading Book III

 

 

[i] I: 39. And obviously he does say ‘slaves’ rather than ‘enslaved people’. 1960s.

[ii] I: 252 ‘Thus it reads above the Emperor’s door’.

[iii] I: 596.

[iv] I: 514.

[v] II, 55.

[vi] 100, 161, 517.

[vii] II: 75

[viii] II: 76.

[ix] II: 76.

[x] II, 76.

[xi] II: 252.

[xii] II: 249.

[xiii] II: 151 – Duncan Idaho, a fighter turned zombie type of thing (generally positive character) says of natural law that it is a ‘myth’ that ‘haunts human history’. II: 156 is his go at justice. Fair to say he has no problem with dictatorial power.

[xiv] I: 54, 57, 589.

[xv] I: 54.

[xvi] I: 561.

[xvii] III:58

[xviii] I: 241.

[xix] I: 238, 316-7.

[xx] II: 242. Cue a nice bit of legal tricksiness from Paul – he loses his eyes, but initially argues that because he can see with his mystical powers, he doesn’t have to be desert-ed. In the end though, he surrenders to the law, to become properly Fre (though also, to be fair, properly dead). The Fremen Law about sending the blind off into the desert is expressed as consigning them to Shai-Hulud (the great worm) in III:39.

[xxi] III: 286.

[xxii] I: 349, 351.

[xxiii] I: 354.

[xxiv] I: 320.

[xxv] I: 337.

[xxvi] Possibly a little inconsistent with the existence of Fremen amazons – II: 111?

[xxvii] I: 340.

[xxviii] I: 401.

[xxix] I: 6-9.

[xxx] I: 328.

[xxxi] I: 489.

[xxxii] I: 330.

[xxxiii] I: 389.

[xxxiv] III:290.

[xxxv] III:113.

[xxxvi] I: 332.

[xxxvii] II:250. It is a foppish traitor wearing one, mind.

Image: sand! (sadly no pictures of giant worms to be found …) Photo by Matteo Di Iorio on Unsplash

Peas, grass and battle beyond The Last Duel

Lots of interest in the merits, and historical accuracy, or otherwise, of the big new film The Last Duel. I hope to go and see it, though feeling a little unsure as to whether I want to sit in a cinema with a load of strangers during current circs. I have the book though, so planning to read it this weekend.

I am not going to presume to comment on the film’s medieval French context, since I am definitely not an expert on that, but, since I suspect that there will be some general wondering about the idea of trial by battle, a little bandwagon-jumping and a couple of quick musings on this from a common law point of view might not go amiss.

For many years, in my Legal History classes, I have included something on proof, including trials by ordeal and by battle. It tends to capture the attention of students just a touch more than the development of the strict settlement and the Bill of Middlesex, for some reason. It is one of the useful areas to push students’ imagination a little, and to try and get them to see beyond the Whiggish distinction between ordeals and battles (stupid) and juries (great and totally unproblematic). With ordeals, there is the fantastic article by Kerr et al.[i] to give them to read, and a case to be made for there having been something of value in the so-called ‘irrational’ mode of proof, when compared to contemporary alternatives. Battle is rather a harder sell, and I confess that I tend to send students off to read the articles by M.J. Russell,[ii] and then in class go for cheap shock value and do Ashford v Thornton in a slightly Horrible Histories way … There is obviously more to say than general agog-ness at the late extirpation of the possibility of TBB though. The gender aspect is, of course, important – women were not supposed to engage in TBB, and do not seem to have done so (though there is one slightly bizarre 15th C story about a duel being ordered between a female accuser and a Franciscan friar, who was supposed to fight with one hand tied behind his back![iii] I have spent vain hours trying to track that one down …) Then there are the accounts, in chronicles and legal sources of battles themselves, and the procedure which they followed, or should follow. Some of these are extremely impractical and ritualistic – with weird weapons, a lot of formulaic language and rules. I was reminded, the other day, when looking for something completely different, that another thing which is really fascinating is the fact that those fighting a TBB took an oath against sorcery.

I stumbled on this version in The Boke of Justices of Peas (printed 1506),[iv] in its little ‘how to’ guide to holding a trial by battle, and was enchanted (!). It’s prescribed for an approver (man who had ‘turned king’s evidence’ and was trying to save his skin by accusing another man of felony and then beating him in a TBB):

‘This here you iustice that I have this day neither ete ne dronke nor haue upon me Stone ne Grasse ne other enchauntement sorcery ne witchecrafte where thoroughe the power of the word of God might be enlessed or demenysshed & the deuylles power encresed and that myn appele is true so help me god and his sayntes and by this boke &c.’

[Justice, hear this: I have not eaten nor drunk today, nor do I have upon me stone, grass or other enchantment, sorcery or witchcraft which might serve to diminish the power of the word of God, and increase the devil’s power, and that my appeal is true, so help me God and his saints and by this book etc.’]

Seems a bit harsh not to let the poor devil eat or drink, but fits with the general religious ritualism of this sort of thing. What about the magic though … what ideas does that reveal about ideas as to how TBB worked, and how it could be derailed. It does seem to suggest that God could be foxed by a magic stone or grass (magic grass – new to me – I assume it is the green lawn stuff, and not some special other early modern meaning – sure somebody will tell me if I am wrong …), which is a rather interesting theological position, when you think about it. Belief in magic is one thing, thinking it could actually transcend the human world and put God off his stride, when intervening to say where the truth and right lay in a trial by battle is several steps further on, I would say. It just seems a really fascinating meeting of two sorts of supernatural belief. And it is made all the more striking as the formula for the duel goes on to bar human intervention to help one side or the other – by advice to take advantage of the opponent, or  physical help. It is as if the magic thing and the weighing in of spectators are on a par, equally likely![v] Possibly the supernatural issue can be rendered a little less blasphemous by thinking that the idea behind it must be that the magic grass etc. could skew the result by acting on the bodies of the combatants, rather than on God. Seems a bit weaselish, but maybe that works.  Feeling once again as if I have a lot to learn! It’s certainly something to think about as we enjoy the big film (or book …) and as we approach Halloween.

GS

16/10/2021

[i] Kerr, MH, Forsyth, RD, and Plyley, MJ, ‘Cold Water and Hot Iron: Trial by Ordeal in England’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 22.4 (1992): 573-95.

[ii] Russell, M. J., ‘I Trial by Battle and the Writ of Right’, Journal of Legal History 1.2 (1980): 111-34 ; ‘II Trial by Battle and the Appeals of Felony’, Journal of Legal History 1.2 (1980): 135-64; ‘Trial By Battle Procedure in Writs of Right and Criminal Appeals’, Tijdschrift Voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 51.1 (1983): 123-34.

[iii] Bellamy, John G,  The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1970), 145; Eulogium Historiarum, III, 389.

[iv] Glazebrook, P. R. The Boke of Justices of Peas, 1506 : With an Introduction by the General Editor (London, 1972). It’s a book which sounds slightly unpleasant if you are a Scot (add the peas and it is all a bit graphically vomity). It is a collection of various ‘templates’ for legal proceedings which might have seemed useful to somebody acting as a JP, or one of his officials. The material is not particularly new – it’s 15th C stuff, perhaps quite a bit from the reign of Henry VII, but earlier than that too.

[v] The no sorcery rule appears in  older sources too– see Russell (1983) above, p. 132.

Photo by Artie Kostenko on Unsplash

Friar Tuck in the Fifteenth Century

Here is a by-catch snippet from a King’s Bench plea roll which might appeal to the more train-spotting completist type of Robin Hood fan (not judging you!) … what seems to be an additional reference to Robert Stafford, naughty Sussex chaplain, who conducted a life of crime under the alias Friar Tuck (or, at least, a reference to a Friar Tuck being up to no good in Sussex).[i]

The name of Stafford (if that’s who this was – as seems likely) is not mentioned, but the description of the offence in the KB plea roll for Michaelmas term 1421 (KB 27/642 m. 32 (AALT IMG 305) might be of interest: at Lewes in 1420, it was presented that Robert Southe of Laughton in co. Sussex, gentleman, Thomas Wodhacche of Horsham, yeoman, and John Pyttekene of Laughton, yeoman, on February 1417, at Plumpton in a place called Lynterygge, with weapons including bows and arrows, their faces hidden, and painted with various colours (make up or camouflage paint? RuPaul’s Drag Race or Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins?) beat up Walter atte Brome and Simon Martyn, shouting, amongst other things, that they were the servants of their reverend master, Friar Tuck – and they rampaged around the countryside for some time, terrifying the populace.

There is something of the carnivalesque about this, and perhaps the presence of the ‘gentleman’ amongst the gang suggests that this was not quite a band of desperate starving men. Nevertheless, this seems to be a tale of violence, at some distance from the true story of Robin Hood (which, as we all know, is about cute Disney animals in a forest).

Anyway – hope that is useful to somebody. Off to ride through a glen … or would be, if Covid permitted.

GS 13/2/2021

[i] See Holt, Robin Hood (London, 1982) 58, for reference to this man and his band of followers in 1417 and 1429 (CPR 1429-36, 10) Note that current circumstances mean no library access, so I am fairly sure I haven’t seen this reference before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t already ‘out there’ somewhere! For more Robin Hoody goodness from the same time – clearly a key point in the Robin Hood myth-making – see Seipp 1429.051  http://BU Law | Our Faculty | Scholarship | Legal History: The Year Books : Report #1429.051 For another 15th C emulation of Robin Hood and co., see TNA SC8/27/1317A

Star Trek: The Legal Generation?

There are a fair few trials in the original incarnation of Star Trek, but it is in The Next Generation that we really get legal. It kicks off with a trial (camply omnipotent villain Q puts on a trial of humanity, dressed up as a rather Civil Law looking judge),

See the source image

https://larryprevost.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/star-trek-TNG-judge-q1.jpg

and continues in a very law-focused way, before coming back to the idea of Q trying Picard as representative of humanity, in the very last episode – pronouncing that ‘The trial never ends’. Captain Picard being rather more of a thinker than Captain Kirk, there is more scope for quite involved legal issues, and it is arguable that law and trials are major themes of TNG – even more so than poker and detective-fantasies, the tedious holodeck and Deanna Troi’s expert jumpsuited counselling (‘But what do you think?’; ‘I think you know the answer to that’ and similar insights). Anyway, I think there’s enough of a pretext for a Star Trek post on here, so here are some of the legal and law-adjacent bits I found interesting. (There is also all sorts of slightly ponderous stuff about the Prime Directive, and treaties, but those don’t float my space-boat to the same extent).

 

Crime, trial  and punishment

Q’s trials of humanity are, to say the least, questionable in terms of the vagueness of the charges (‘being a grievously savage race’…) and the procedure. They are far from the only ‘criminal’ cases in TNG. These also jumped out at me as interesting.

1:8 features the hapless Wesley Crusher in danger of being put to death by lethal injection for a trivial infringement of a law he didn’t know about on a planet of irritatingly physically perfect dimwits. Cue some argument about the Prime Directive and the nature of law. Bad knitwear fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief – Crusher lives to wear terrible jumpers another day. And let’s not mention the quilted waistcoat monstrosity of 7:20 – nearly as ‘criminal’ as the faux-Scots accents and geography featured in 7:14).

3:14 has a long drawn out trial to determine whether Riker can resist extradition to Tanuga IV to face charges of murder and perhaps attempted rape, under a system which presumes a person guilty until proven innocent (obv. Prime Directive would mean he’d have to be tried in that way if he was extradited). There is much on hearsay evidence and its acceptability (fine as far as the Tanugans are concerned, not as the Federation sees it), and a reconstruction is important in exonerating Riker.

3:17 has a lot of content involving Klingon law and customs. Lt Worf’s father is falsely accused of treason – of having betrayed a Klingon colony to the Romulans (they of the shoulder pads, Mary Quant hairdos, Warbirds and cloaking devices). He is dead, but this doesn’t matter much, as a finding can still be made, and it will stain the name of the whole Mogh family, including Worf and his brother. The Klingons are clearly very cool (best boots in space, and those groovy sashes .. ) and their legal procedure involves challenges and battle. We don’t get all the way through a case, sadly, as Worf nobly accepts disgrace, despite his father’s innocence, for the good of the Klingon empire, set to be blown apart if the truth emerges (that the actual traitor was somebody very powerful). 4:7 has more Klingon law – Lt Worf exercises the right of vengeance, challenging the killer of his mate, and killing him. Bit of an echo of the medieval appeal perhaps? Starfleet, of course, is not pleased, but Worf is entirely justified under Klingon law.

4:21 has a trial of a medical officer, Simon Tarses, for sabotage. Tarses, though innocent of that, is part Romulan and has concealed this. It is used against him by a rather crazed prosecutor/investigator. We see that the Federation has a ‘right to remain silent’ so as not to self-incriminate, just like 20th/21st century Anglo-American systems, and Tarses uses this at one point.

4:22 has resonance in relation to suicide and euthanasia, depicting Kaelon II, a society with a custom of requiring suicide (‘the Resolution’) when a person reaches 60, so that they do not decline. There is a clash between the Prime Directive and the magnificent Lwaxana Troi (Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed) over whether to stop nice almost-sixty-year-old scientist Timicin from going back to his planet to kill himself in accordance with the custom. In the end, he goes back, and she rises to the occasion, to go and be with him at the end.

5:12 has a novel crime – rape by invading the mind – perpetrated on Counsellor Deanna Troi by Jev, a telepathic Ullian, who hijacks a memory of her and Riker, and intrudes himself into it. There is no justice here, however. Showing the limits of law?

5: 16 – more Klingons, more suicide. Worf is paralysed after a rather ignoble accident, and wants to kill himself, asking Riker to assist. The method to be used is (of course) both ritualised and bloody – a jagged dagger to the heart. A combination of hope of medical help and a wish not to desert his slightly troubled son Alexander turns him away from this decision. Interesting absolutist/relativist discussion of suicide and disability for Klingons by Riker and Picard.

 

Persons

Personhood v. property comes up in relation to Lt Commander Data (an android), in 2:9.  There is a highly charged court scene in which Capt. Picard has to argue what is apparently a novel point. Of course, he prevails, and Data is ruled not to be property (and so cannot be experimented on contrary to his will). Data also features in an interesting discussion in 6:9 ‘The Quality of Life’ (20:20-22:30) about what life is. I am seriously thinking of using this in a forthcoming paper on the beginning of life in medieval law. That would cause amusing confusion in an audience of legal historians.

There are bits and pieces on sex and gender – and, while some of it is a bit more progressive than Kirk-era stories, there are some curious failures to imagine that things could change. On the prescient side, we have, e.g., 5:17 which introduces us to the J’naii, a people who have (almost entirely) evolved past the idea of sex/gender. One of them, Soren, falls for Riker, of course (he is, apparently, irresistible – just don’t see it myself …) and comes out as ‘really female’. There is a trial of a sort, ending with some sort of treatment which removes this aberrant feeling of sexedness, leaving Soren content and Riker sad (as he has fallen in love with her within half an hour’s acquaintance – not saying the man’s shallow, but …). On the ‘aren’t aliens backward about these things’ front, we have the Ferengi, who apparently don’t let their women do much, or, indeed wear clothes (1:5), and the Klingons seem mostly to favour men in public functions (though the women do get clothes). There are also arranged marriages –  as in the ill-fated union planned for everyone’s favourite Betazoid/Human Wellness-Adviser-Before-Wellness-Was-A-Thing, Deanna Troi and some drippy doctor bloke 1:11, and in the story of the metamorph woman bred and trained as a peace-weaver in 5:21. (The former marriage does not work out, leaving Troi to have a complicated and wide-ranging love life, but the second goes ahead (non-interference and all that) despite the fact that the (hot) woman ends up ‘bonding’ with Picard, and will now have to spend her life with a deeply unattractive and unworthy politician). Curiously un-prescient (I hope), however, is the assumption that, in the 24th C,  somebody as high-powered and independent as Beverly Crusher would have taken the name of husband 1, and not only taken the name of husband 2, but kept it after a divorce (7:26).

 

Misc.

A couple of others worth mentioning …

We get legal again in 4:13 with an attempt to enforce a very old contract between a supposed deity/ demon, Ardra, and the people of a planet (Ventax II) she allegedly helped to sort their planet out, in return for a promise that the people’s descendants would submit to serve her in a thousand years’ time. Top legal strategy here from Data and Picard, using a Ventaxian precedent to demand arbitration. We then have an ‘arbitration’ which looks very much like a US style trial, complete with ‘objection!’ etc., and some pretty good arguments as to performance, but then goes off on a more sci-fi path with some flashy demonstrations of Ardra’s powers, debunked when our heroes get control of her boxes of tricks. She is confounded and imprisoned as a fraud.

6:10 and 11 are the place to go for those who like a bit of international/intergalactic law. Picard is captured by the evil lumpy Nazi-ish Cardassians (yes, the name-similarity with the not-at-all-crass-and-charmless family of reality TV fame is quite funny – this is where excessive plastic surgery could lead) and tortured, but not without getting out an objection that this is contrary to the Seldonis Convention – sounds v like Geneva Convention (crossed with the Selden Society???). There is a bit of a legal issue though in terms of him possibly being a spy rather than a POW.

There is also a lot to think about in terms of colonisation: this is treated as almost entirely unproblematic, which is all very of its time, though generally what is being colonised (by the Federation at least) is uninhabited planets, and at least Picard seems to be very open-minded about what amounts to ‘life’ and should be left alone.

 

‘The Trial Never Ends…’

But the show did. Now I have finished filling in the gaps of my viewing of both Original Star Trek and The Next Generation, and Netflix is pushing Deep Space Nine on me. I am not sure whether I am ready to ‘boldly go’ there yet. There seem to be a lot of episodes and I am not convinced it’s worth the commitment. On the other hand, I do fancy Voyager, and may miss some important lore by not following things through .. maybe in Stardate 2021?

GS 12/12/2020

Law’s Federation: the trials of Captain Kirk

Trials in Star Trek

It is interesting to see the ways in which a mid-20th C American sci-fi series portrayed legal process, with all sorts of references to what was and what ought to be (in a fundamentally just entity like the United Federation of Planets, and its military wing, Starfleet). I recently watched Series 2 episode 12, ‘The Deadly Years’, which includes a ‘fascinating’ [thank you Mr Spock] legal proceeding to determine whether Captain Kirk should be relieved of his duties, due to physical and/or mental incompetence.

The story revolves around mysterious and rapid degeneration which affects members of the crew, including Kirk, who have visited a planet, Gamma Hydra IV, making them age about thirty years per day. Spock, also affected by this process, but, due to his Vulcanicity, not to quite the same extent, is obliged by a guest character – the bossy but ultimately rather incompetent Commodore Stocker – to set up and chair a competency hearing.

Spock acts as Presiding Officer, chairing and also examining witnesses (so not the classic common law judge role). he process is directed to answering the question ‘is Kirk unfit to command’, a decision to be made by vote by a board, after hearing evidence from witnesses (directed to examples of Kirk’s repetition of orders, forgetting that he had signed things, showing a failing memory, as well as his previous good memory – showing decline) and evidence from a computer assessment of Kirk’s physical health, confirmed by expert witness (but also board member) Dr McCoy. The board deliberates in secret. Kirk would seem to have the right to call witnesses, though chooses not to call them. Unlike the splendid dress uniforms seen in Star Trek court martial scenes, we are in normal uniforms here, with four board members arrayed around a modernist asymmetrical table, other crew members (witnesses, unclear if they had a vote) behind them, and Kirk on the other side on a ‘naughty chair’. The outcome is that he is found unfit, and is relieved of command. It does appear to be correct, according to the story, but perhaps one might wonder at the potential for injustice in the role allowed to several other officers affected – albeit perhaps to a lesser extent – with the same condition as Kirk. There is no obvious appeal from the decision, though once the cure is found an Kirk’s condition reversed, he seems to just resume his command, without formal process – a little slack, surely, unless the decision included a provision for this eventuality.

Looking forward to more Final Frontier Laws …

to be continued.

16/7/2020

Gender running Amok? Thoughts on classic Star Trek episode ‘Amok Time’ (1967)

This episode (the first episode of the second series) has several iconic aspects – first appearance of Chekov, first time out for the Vulcan salute and only trip to Vulcan in original Star Trek – but on rewatching it during my lockdown completist marathon, I was struck by two things. The first was the Legal-Historian-pleasing ‘trial by battle’ between Spock and Kirk with lirpa – weapons looking not a million miles away from medieval judicial duel weapons. Another time. It’s the second I went away thinking about, and will muse upon here – the portrayal of women. Not strictly Legal History, I suppose, but then again, both LH and Sci-Fi are about messing about with time, imagining other eras; and there are certainly some resonances with ideas about women in history, so I think I’m allowed.

The fabulous Lt Uhura on the bridge is not given much attention here – she is just doing her job. The three who are prominent are Nurse Christine Chapel, on the Enterprise, and, on Vulcan, T’Pau and T’Pring. These three all interact with Spock, who is in the grip of the pon farr mating urge, and, to cut a long story short, has to go to Vulcan to consummate his union with T’Pring, or, it is feared, he will die.

Chapel is the least inspiring of the trio. She is revealed to be hopelessly keen on Spock, fussing about after him and bringing him Vulcan soup. Very nurturing. Doesn’t go down well, though, Spock is quite nasty to her.

The best action is on Vulcan, where we have the powerful T’Pau – a diplomat, judge, and more, who presides over what was supposed to be a marriage and turned into a ritual battle – and the fascinating T’Pring. As Lt Uhura exclaims, she is beautiful.

The portrayals of T’Pau and T’Pring are very interesting. They are in some ways positive and forward-looking (in earthly terms – remember when this was written) but the writers could not quite let go of the assumptions of their own times. T’Pau, for example, is respected by all, but is portrayed as rigid and perhaps cruel. Powerful woman as ‘cold-hearted-bitch’ model? T’Pring is clever – even Spock praises her logic – but we are supposed to see her as a bit of a scheming minx and Vulcan ‘gold-digger’, arranging things so that she can get Spock’s property but be with the beefier Stonn instead. I wondered to myself, also, whether it was easier to give power to women who were ‘other’, rather than to the human women, who, on the Enterprise, were always subordinate to men. The Vulcans were portrayed as decidedly ‘Oriental’ (in an indefinite, pan-Asian manner). T’Pau on her litter, with her formality, was particularly reminiscent of an empress of China. Then again, she did remind me slightly of the statues of the BVM which are carried through Spanish streets on holy days. (That of course would make a nice contrast with T’Pring as an Eve-like temptress).

Vulcan law and customs as portrayed here include elements popularly regarded as ‘medieval’ – as well as trial by battle, we had marriages arranged by families at an early age, and the idea of a wife as the property of a man. I was particularly disappointed to hear T’Pau buying into the ‘wife as property’ thing: not much female solidarity with T’Pring there. I assume that there was no Mr T’Pau, otherwise, on this evidence, she would have been at home being a chattel. Even Spock entered into woman as property trope territory when he left Stonn with a little speech about ‘having’ not being as good as wanting (T’Pring, or women in general…) I must say, I came away from watching this as a grownup feeling admiration for T’Pring, for playing the system and getting out of what was clearly a most illogical arrangement. Live long and prosper, T’Pring! (And give Nurse Chapel some tips on not being an inter-galactic  doormat).

GS 27/6/2020

The Lord and the Law Part IV: Capital punishment in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels of Dorothy L Sayers

The date of writing and setting of the Wimsey novels means that the killers unmasked by the aristocratic sleuth are liable to execution by hanging. It is not something from which Sayers shrinks, nor something which Wimsey can ignore.

There are anti-hanging voices in the novels. The ‘fast’ and drug-addled Dian de Momerie in MMA expresses negative sentiments about the death penalty, for example, telling Wimsey ‘I went to a murder trial once. There was a horrible old man, the Judge – I forget his name. He was like a wicked old scarlet parrot, and he [gave the death sentence] as though he liked it (MMA loc 3291). In GN, Miss Barton, a rather ridiculous figure, is also opposed to capital punishment. She bases this on a sympathetic view of murderers: ‘Our attitude to this whole thing seems to me completely savage and brutal. I have met so many murderers when visiting prisons, and most of them are very harmless, stupid people, poor creatures, when they aren’t definitely pathological.’ (GN, 36). This view is put down by our heroine, Harriet Vane, who comments that Miss Barton ‘might feel differently about it …if [she had] happened to meet the victims. They are often still stupider and more harmless than the murderers. But they don’t make a public appearance. Even the jury needn’t see the body unless they like. But I saw the body in that Wilvercombe case – I found it, and it was beastleir than anything you can imagine.’ … ‘And … you don’t see the murderers actively engaged in murdering. You see them when they’re caught and caged and looking pathetic. But the Wilvercombe man was a cunning, avaricious brute, and quite ready to go on and do it again, if he hadn’t been stopped’ (ibid.)

A more unusual view is expressed in Gaudy Night by Miss Edwards. While she feels that hanging is ‘wasteful and unkind’, she does not think murderers deserve to be ‘comfortably fed and housed while decent people go short’, and concludes that, as a matter of economics, ‘they should be used for laboratory experiments’. Lord Peter is not keen. (GN, 408).

Wimsey has at some point seen an execution, the implication being that he felt it his duty, if he was involving himself in the investigation of murder, and the conviction of murderers, to take some responsibility for the consequences of so doing: ‘I got permission to see a hanging once… I thought I’d better know … but it hasn’t cured me of meddling.’ (BH, 430). Clearly he has thought about it deeply, and put himself in the position of the condemned prisoner: ‘They give them something to make them sleep … It’s a merciful death compared to most natural ones … It’s only the waiting and knowing beforehand… And the ugliness. … Old Johnson was right, the procession to Tyburn was kinder … “The hangman with his gardener’s gloves comes through the padded door” (BH 430-31). It is made clear that he does feel his responsibility: he suffers from ‘nervous depression’ after an execution, when he has been involved in the case. (TD, loc. 309, and particularly in the last chapters of BH). Wimsey finds it particularly difficult to contemplate hanging a woman, despite an intellectual conviction that there should be equality here:‘Peter was conscious of a curious reluctance. Theoretically, he was quite a ready to hang a woman as a man, but the memory of Miss Twitterton, frenziedly clingng to Harriet, was disturbing to him.(BH, 163).

The overall view of the capital punishment question from the leading characters is positive in intellectual terms, but it is clear that the whole business is emotionally troubling. His views on and involvement in capital punishment provide some of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking moments in the Wimsey books, and give some interesting insights into contemporary non-abolitionist attitudes.

GS 18/9/2015

Abbreviations

WB                  Whose Body? (1923) set 1922?[1]

CW                  Clouds of Witness (1926)

UD                  Unnatural Death (1927)

LPVB              Lord Peter Views the Body (short stories) (1928)

UBC                The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)

SP                    Strong Poison (1930)

FRH                Five Red Herrings (1931)

HHC               Have His Carcase (1932)

HH                  Hangman’s Holiday (short stories) (1933)

MMA              Murder Must Advertise  (1933)

TNT                 The Nine Tailors (1934)

GN                  Gaudy Night (1935)

BH                  Busman’s Honeymoon (1937)

SF                    Striding Folly (short stories, published 1972)

 

TD                   Thrones, Dominations (by Jill Paton Walsh, based on a sketch by Dorothy L Sayers, 1998)

 

 

The Lord and the Law: Legal Content and Ideas in the Lord Peter Wimsey stories of Dorothy L. Sayers Part II: The Faithful Family Solicitor

The Lord and the Law: Legal Content and Ideas in the Lord Peter Wimsey stories of Dorothy L. Sayers

Part II: The Faithful Family Solicitor

Contrasting in some respects with Sir Impey Biggs is another recurring lawyer: the solicitor, J. Murbles of Staple Inn(UBC loc890). Sayers’s portrayal of Murbles is generally positive, if somewhat condescending. While Biggs, the socially superior representative of what was very much the ‘higher branch’ of the legal profession, is physically impressive, Murbles, a lowlier lawyer, is described as a ‘little elderly gentleman … so perfectly the family solicitor as really to have no distinguishing personality at all, beyond a great kindness of heart and a weakness for soda-mint lozenges’(UBC loc 197), burdened by a ‘delicate digestion’ (CW 30). Nevertheless, Wimsey respects his sense, in law and in life, consulting him on issues relating to property (UD 162) and describing him as a ‘wise old bird’, who takes sensible precautions in dangerous situations (UD 223).

Unsurprisingly for one in his profession and station, Murbles’s political views appear to be Tory-traditionalist: thus, he is impatient with the socialist anti-aristocrat view of the radical Goyles, and is convinced that ‘the law’s the law for everybody’ (CW 162), which the benefit of hindsight tells us is a somewhat naive view to have held (albeit fictitiously) in the 1920s and 1930s. He can take a joke along familiar cynical lines relating to the legal profession – so when Lord Peter asks him whether lawyers ever go to heaven, he responds with a dry ‘I have no information on that point’ (UBC loc 273).

Murbles defers to his legal superiors, and is ready to consult counsel on more involved matters of property law. When a case turns on changes in the rules of succession following the 1925 property legislation (much beloved of English and Welsh law students to this day). Murbles suggests consulting a barrister, Towkington, ‘quite the ablest authority I could name’, on the point (UD 166). Although Murbles has his own ideas about the point, he defers to Towkington (UD 170).

All in all, Murbles is a resourceful and useful professional man who knows his place, both with regard to Lord Peter and with regard to the barristers with whom he has to deal.

 

Abbreviations

WB                  Whose Body? (1923)

CW                  Clouds of Witness (1926)

UD                  Unnatural Death (1927)

LPVB              Lord Peter Views the Body (short stories) (1928)

UBC                The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)

SP                    Strong Poison (1930)

FRH                Five Red Herrings (1931)

HHC               Have His Carcase (1932)

HH                  Hangman’s Holiday (short stories) (1933)

MMA              Murder Must Advertise (1933)

TNT                 The Nine Tailors (1934)

GN                  Gaudy Night (1935)

BH                  Busman’s Honeymoon (1937)

SF                    Striding Folly (short stories, published 1972)

 

TD                   Thrones, Dominations (by Jill Paton Walsh, based on a sketch by Dorothy L Sayers, 1998)