Sevencyclopaedia - Courts

This is a greatly expanded entry from the Sevencyclopaedia. By Murray Smith.



Two Federation courts were shown in the series: the civil court that tried and convicted Blake for at least 8 offences against 3 children (The Way Back); and the court martial that tried and convicted Travis for the murder of 1,417 unarmed civilians (Trial). Both trials suggest a Federation courts system, particularly a criminal courts system, that while similar in places to Earth courts systems of the late twentieth century AD, is different in others. Differences also exist between the two trials, presumably as Travis's was for a more serious offence and before a military court.

In comparing what is seen and heard regarding the trials with late twentieth century Earth standards, one needs to look at what is stipulated by international standards of human rights accepted by Earth states of the period, set down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10th December, 1948) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (16th December 1966).

1. Similarities:

The above documents state that someone accused of a criminal offence is entitled to:

a. A fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law (The press and public may be excluded for reasons of morals, public order or national security, or when the interest of the private lives of the parties requires.):

This appears to be the case in both trials. The tribunals in both cases were composed of three people: an arbiter and two unidentified others. Presumably, the members of the tribunals would be regarded as independent; Samor, the arbiter in Travis's case, was a temporary appointment, but universally regarded as a man of integrity, ensuring that any decision by the court martial regarding sentence would be unquestioned.

Blake's trial does not seem to be in public and Travis's was supposed to be in secret session. This could be justified by the above standards of morals (Blake) and national security (Travis).

b. The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty:

This seems to exist in both trials. In Blake's trial, after he insisted that he was innocent, the arbiter answered that, 'Your guilt or innocence is what we are here to determine'. After the evidence has been entered into the computer, the latter then said, 'Let the matter be assessed and may justice prevail'. Whether the standard of proof in a criminal case was beyond a 'reasonable doubt' is not said, though Ven Glynd used those words after hearing Varon's fresh evidence of what had been done to the children.

Travis, when asked by Samor if he accepted 'the balance of the judgement programme' said that he did; he then gave the reply 'not guilty' when asked how he answered the charges against him.

c. The right to be informed promptly of the charges against him:

This appears to be the case in both trials. Blake was formally asked by the arbiter if he was 'made aware' of the charges against him, and if he fully understood their 'nature and gravity'. In Travis's case, this knowledge can also be reasonably presumed.

d. The right to have adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing:

Presumably the ability to prepare one's defence existed, although hampered in Blake's case by faked evidence, and in Travis's by the evidence being overwhelmingly against him. It appears that both were allowed to communicate with their counsel, though it is not known if either had a choice in who the latter were. It is not known if Blake could have demanded counsel other than Varon. In Travis's case, he was asked at the start if he accepted the 'competence' of his counsel, Thania. His acceptance later led to Samor forcing him to consult with her, despite his objection that he had no wish to do so.

e. The right to be tried without undue delay:

This certainly appeared to be the case, both trials beginning in what by late twentieth century standards would be a very short time after arrest.

f. The right to be tried in his presence and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing:

Both accused were present in their trials, and both had legal representation.

g. The right not to be compelled to testify against himself:

Neither of the two was so compelled.

h. If convicted, the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal established by law:

No evidence is given that such a right existed in both trials, but nothing is given excluding it. It is possible that Varon and his wife were gathering enough evidence to make such an appeal on Blake's behalf when they were shot.

2. Differences:

a. Computers as judge and/or jury:

The most obvious difference was that a computer was responsible for both the verdict and sentence in Blake's trial and for the verdict in Travis's. In the first trial, such a computer was called the 'judgement machine' and did not speak; in the second trial, while unnamed, it spoke and the programme it used was named: Judgement programme Jenkin One Oblique Three. The computer that sentenced Blake was supposed to have taken into account 'your [Blake's] past record, your service to the state, and your loyalty to the Federation'. In his case, none of these 'have mitigated in your [Blake's] favour'.

Presumably, the introduction of computers to arrive at the appropriate verdict was in order to ensure that the verdict was not the product of fallible human emotion.

b. Electronic evidence:

This was presumably the reason for the legal submissions by both sides in both trials being overwhelmingly electronic in form. In Blake's trial, the inputting and processing of the evidence is done in a highly visible manner, the evidence being contained in clear spheres containing electronic components, in sealed, pink, semi-transparent boxes. Each box is presented to the other side's lawyers to inspect, to ensure that the evidence was properly 'sealed and approved', then to open and remove the spheres, placing them in the judgement machine.

c. The right of the accused to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf:

The above two differences seemed to result in a third, the almost complete absence of oral advocacy, not only in terms of legal submissions by counsel, but in their examination and cross-examination of the witnesses in the case, none of whom were therefore present in court. This was predicted in the late twentieth century by a Chief Justice of Ireland in a lecture, when he said: 'As long as there is an independent judiciary, and until such time as the first computer is appointed to the Bench, the craft of [oral] advocacy has, in some form, a very definite and important future in, I would have thought, both our [Ireland and the US] legal systems'. (Thomas A. Finlay, Advocacy: has it a future? Fifteenth Annual John F. Sonnet Lecture at Fordham University School of Law, (Dublin, 1986))

Presumably, counsel could challenge the evidence on both sides. What happened in the cases seen was due to the relevant circumstances. In Blake's trial, both counsel were asked by the arbiter if they were satisfied that the evidence was 'fairly obtained', and that all statements were 'certified as true and correct by lie detector'. Varon told Blake at the pre-trial consultation that he had spoken to the children. This may indicate some form of preliminary examination before the trial. Because Blake insisted on offering no defence, Varon did not challenge the evidence at the trial.

In Travis's case, Thania asked that the computer give the names and causes of death of the alleged victims be specified, insisting on this, despite having 'instant recall' of the prosecution data. The tribunal, apparently on the grounds that it was a trial that had the accused facing a potential death penalty if found guilty, agreed to this. Thania also was going to make an 'opening declaration', until stopped by Travis, who insisted on making it himself. From what was heard, it appears that this declaration was designed for the accused or his legal representative to plead for clemency with the tribunal. This was presumably in place in Travis's trial as that tribunal had discretion regarding the sentence, which could include the death penalty.

d. The right of the accused to defend himself in person:

While Travis was allowed to address the tribunal in his defence, again perhaps because it had discretion regarding the sentence, Blake was not. When the latter asked Varon if he could make a statement in open court, he was told that it was up to the arbiter and 'not usual'. When he later asked to be allowed to make a statement, the arbiter said that if he had a complaint against the conduct of the tribunal, 'it must be directed through your advocate'.

e. Very speedy trials:

As mentioned before, both trials began very quickly after the arrests of the accused. Bail was not mentioned in either case, and may have been regarded as no longer necessary due to this. Due to the use of computers and electronic evidence, and the almost complete absence of oral advocacy, the trials concluded very quickly: Blake's in a matter of minutes, Travis's in a matter of hours, over at least two days.

f. Mistrial:

From a comment by Servalan, it appeared that if Travis had been drugged, there would be grounds for the tribunal ordering a mistrial.

g. Terminology:

The arbiter and the clerk of court in Blake's trial and Samor in Travis's used the word 'tribunal' instead of 'court'.

The two trials showed that while Travis received justice, Blake did not, convicted due to deliberately tainted evidence. In terms of public perceptions, however, it appeared that the majority of Federation citizens, even those convicted of criminal offences, regarded their courts system as fair, perhaps with good reason. As examples of the latter category of citizens, Vila and Jenna were initially sceptical when Blake claimed that he was innocent, Vila joking that they were 'all victims of a miscarriage of justice'. This belief presumably enabled the Federation authorities to fake evidence on occasion to ensure the conviction of dissidents like Blake.

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