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Writing Legal Characters/Stories: History of Trials

Posted by Writing PIs on April 21, 2010

Besides teaching classes about writing private investigators, we sometimes also teach classes about writing legal characters/stories (thanks to one of us being a retired trial attorney, and to various attorneys and judges who’ve graciously offered additional material for the classes).  We thought we’d share some of that class material, starting with some background of how trials came to be.

History of Trials

“A trial is still ordeal by battle. For the broadsword there is the weight of evidence; for the battle-axe the force of logic; for the sharp spear, the blazing gleam of truth; for the rapier, the quick and flashing knife of wit.”
-Lloyd Paul Stryker, American attorney, quoted in reports of his death June 22, 1955

Our modern system of justice has roots in medieval Germanic and Anglo-Saxon conflict resolution, which these people of yesteryear called trial by ordeal.  Trial by ordeal was a battle that pitted appointed representatives of two disputing sides against each other. The entire premise behind this institution was based on the belief that God would not allow the guilty or the wrong to prosper. Like today’s trial system, the parties to the dispute did not enter the “field of combat” but instead, each chose “champions” to fight in their place (see the similarity to modern trial lawyers?).  Each champion would take an oath and swear that the cause they were undertaking was in the right, with the medieval belief being that God would strengthen the arm of whoever had sworn to uphold the more just position.

Trial by ordeal persisted in the English system of laws until its abolition in the nineteenth century. The basic principles and some of the details (for example, that the trial by ordeal was presided over by the coroner in English law, and that all trial systems provided for a presiding judge of some kind) persist in modern systems in America and England.  Imagine this system in today’s world—perhaps a television series where WWF champion wrestlers become trial lawyers!

Just like combatants in trials by ordeal, characters in the law still remain arrogant, independent, and ready for battle.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

One Response to “Writing Legal Characters/Stories: History of Trials”

  1. I definitely enjoyed reading through this post.Many thanks.

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