Law and Justice

On Nova, the powers of law and justice are inextricably tied to the powers of land ownership and feudalism.


The power of law is the power to make create rules (i.e., laws) that proscribe specified acts and prescribe penalties for those acts. The penalties a law carries may be no greater than those that the lawmaker may prescribe, according to that lawmaker’s powers of justice (see below). Ancient custom dictates that the power of law is held by landlords of the estate of scout or brotherhood, and hold sway only over persons or acts committed on the landlord’s own land.

The power of chancery is the power to do justice as the person so empowered (called a “chancellor”) sees fit, according to his or her personal sense of justice. Like the power of law, the penalties a chancellor may mete out are limited by his or her powers of justice. Unlike law, chancery is intended to do justice in extraordinary cases where there is no law, or the penalties prescribed by law are for some reason unsuitable for the facts of the case. The power of chancery is only held by members of the brotherhood.

The powers of justice dictate the penalties that a lawmaker or chancellor may mete out. The power of low justice is defined as power over a miscreant’s property. This includes fines, repossessions, and liens on future property (e.g., if a convict has insufficient property to pay a fine immediately, the power of low justice includes the power to garnish the convict’s wages, future crops, or other future assets to cover the amount owed). The power of low justice is held by landlords of both the scouts and the brotherhood.

The power of medium justice is defined as power over a miscreant’s liberty – i.e., the power to require that a convict do a certain act or acts. This includes imprisonment, public display (e.g., in stocks), indentured servitude, and even slavery. The power of medium justice is held by landlords of both the scouts and the brotherhood.

The power of high justice is defined as power over a miscreant’s person. This includes executions, but also the removal of extremities or limbs, as well as branding and other disfigurements. The power of high justice is held only by landlords of the brotherhood.


Inherent in the powers of law and chancery is the ability to delegate those powers. In practice, most lawmakers and chancellors do delegate their powers, to avoid having all their time be taken up adjudicating disputes. An agent who wields the power of law on a lawmaker’s behalf is known as a justicar, while an agent who wields the power of chancery on a chancellor’s behalf is known as a chancellor. If a landlord has very large or populous holdings (e.g., in the case of a lord), he or she may appoint multiple justicars or chancellors, and may even appoint tiers of these agents who can hear appeals or specialized cases – all according to the imagination and organization of the original lawmaker or chancellor.

Although in theory the power of chancery is the only power necessary to see justice done, in practice it is used only for extraordinary cases. Prescribing laws helps to ensure uniform justice, and greatly simplifies the administrative burden of adjudicating disputes.

Because the power of chancery is so broad, Novan custom dictates several important differences between law and chancery. Perhaps the most important difference is the principle of “clean hands,” which states that if the party who requested that a dispute be heard at chancery is found to have acted wrongly in some way, the dispute must be heard at law instead. A difference only slightly less important is that the exercise of chancery must be explicitly requested. This means that appointed chancellors do not act as peace officers. A justicar can see a law being broken and prosecute the lawbreaker on his or her own initiative; a chancellor cannot exercise his power unless a dispute is brought to him by an interested party. The one exception to this principle is the landlord chancellor himself, whom custom permits to do justice (on his or her own lands) whenever, and however, he or she sees fit.


The procedures of a Novan trial, either at law or at chancery, are theoretically up to each landlord to decide. However, several procedural features are found in almost all jurisdictions.

In general, justicars and chancellors both preside over trials and serve as fact-finders. That is to say, they are responsible for enforcing proper procedure as well as sifting the arguments presented by each side to determine what the facts of the case truly are. Separate juries charged with weighing the truth of each side’s words are rare on Nova.

In cases at law, the facts to be considered are only those presented by the parties of the case; the justicar is not supposed to conduct or employ independent investigators. Chancellors, on the other hand, are expected to take an active role in determining the truth of any matter brought before them, directly questioning litigants and witnesses, and even conducting their own investigations. Witnesses are not always permitted at Novan trials, out of fear that witnesses can be bought, but most jurisdictions permit at least some witnesses – sometimes with restrictions such as a requirement that the witness be (or not be) related to any of the parties of the dispute, have an income of a certain level, or other rules intended to ensure that only impartial witnesses of good character can testify.

Nova has a common law system by tradition, in which cases with the same facts are supposed to be decided the same way. A justicar or chancellor is, theoretically, supposed to be expert in prior cases, as well as the customs that dictate court procedure and any formal written rules of procedure laid down by the landlord. In practice, many of the finer details of these matters are overlooked or unknown by appointed officials. Novans who study such matters as a hobby are called jurists. Most jurists are leisured individuals who study law as a hobby, but many make their expertise available to friends or paying clients. A jurist has no formal power over a court, but a jurist of great learning or reputation can sway most officials – particularly if he has an impressive array of written books to back him up.

While a jurist may have great learning, he or she is not necessarily a good speaker or extemporaneous thinker. For this reason, some Novans hire professional or semi-professional advocates to speak for them. An advocate may also be a jurist, but his or her defining skill is the ability to present a case persuasively. Like jurists, most advocates are independently leisured, and dabble in court cases as a hobby or merely secondary source of income.

Trial in Fairbanks

Sir Optimus Darhel, like his father, fancies himself a man of great learning and fairness. As a result, trials in Fairbanks are highly structured by Novan standards. At a trials in Fairbanks:

  1. Justicars who preside over criminal trials are not permitted also to act as the prosecution; a second justicar must serve this role.
  2. The presiding justicar serves as both president and fact-finder; no juries are used.
  3. The presiding justicar may limit the number and type of witnesses each side may present, but the limits must be the same for each side.
  4. In general, witnesses of any kind are permitted, with the presiding justicar charged to weigh each witness’ credibility.
  5. Witnesses are sworn to truthfulness by a priest of the Ecclesiarchy.
  6. Each side is permitted to bring its own jurists and/or advocates.
  7. Each side is permitted to question its own witnesses during their testimony.
  8. Each side is permitted to cross-examine the other side’s witnesses.
  9. The defendant is permitted to make an opening statement, followed by an opening statement (which often serves as a rebuttal) by the prosecution or plaintiff. After this, the prosecution or plaintiff produces witnesses, who are cross-examined by the defense. The defense then presents its witnesses, who are cross-examined by the prosecution or plaintiff. Closing arguments are then made by the prosecution or plaintiff, followed by the defense.
  10. The presiding justicar is given a range of penalties for each offense, to be meted out according to his or her discretion based on the facts of the case. However, legal penalties in Fairbanks tend to be harsh. The minimum penalty for murder, for instance, is that the murderer lose the hand or hands that were used to commit the murder and then be impaled by a sword. Outright execution is reserved for the vilest crimes in Fairbanks, although many convicts die from being run through.
  11. Individual rulings in a trial (including sentences) may not be appealed, but the result of a trial may be appealed whole to Sir Optimus himself, who deigns or declines to hear appeals at his own discretion. If a case turns (or could turn) on a point of law prescribed by Lord Darhel rather than Sir Optimus, a second appeal may be made to Lord Darhel after Sir Optimus has rendered his own judgment or declined to hear the appeal. Lord Darhel also hears or declines appeals at his own discretion.
  12. Visiting knights whose castles do not lie in Darhel lands may decline a trial at law and demand instead a trial by combat. In a trial by combat, the defendant is required to fight personally, as is the plaintiff if one exists. If the foreign knight was brought to trial by a justicar, the justicar is permitted to use a champion.

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