The Romans, violent as they were, were acutely aware of the consequences of not honoring legal proceedings. Did the powerful among them always do so? No, but the powerful also wrote the laws to promote their power and privilege, then enforce good behavior even amongst themselves, insofar as it was possible to do so.
Law II. If, after having been summoned, he does not appear, or refuses to come before the tribunal of the judge, let the party who summoned him call upon any citizens who are present to bear witness.
Then let him seize his reluctant adversary; so that he may be brought into court, as a captive, by apparent force.
Show up or You. Will. Be. Brought. Before. The Court. In. Chains.
Whenever a summons was delivered, and refused, the next recourse was to publicly declare (in our era, this would be covered in the media somehow or posted in the local newspaper or public website) that a summons had been issued, that this was a lawful proceeding and not a defamation which would be grounds for a countersuit. It was also to serve as a public shaming.
To be treated as a captive was the same as being an enemy or slave in Roman culture, an almost irrecoverable shame. A tradesman would likely seek exile after such a humiliation, if allowed to skip out on the summons at all. A noble, suicide. That is, if they were not in such dire straits that they did not do that rather than suffer being in court at disadvantage at all.
We live in a television society. To be called before a public hearing is a dreadful dishonor in our society, even for those who have later profited from it. The resistance of certain current and former government officials and corporate officers to answering summons should not be underestimated; to be set before Congress under bright lights and harsh questions is for such persons very stressful. However, we have as a society through inefficacious Congressional leadership made it easy for such persons, who share the same class, to dodge the bullet. This is perceived as salutary for all; if we the powerful cannot be called on to summons, we are all better off. NO, the Romans knew the consequence of this, too -- those who visibly have the most influence over and profit from the laws of the land must be seen to obey them, or the legitimacy of the state is called into question, and real danger of riot and rebellion ensues.
Law III. When anyone who has been summoned to court is guilty of evasion, or attempts to flee, let him be arrested by the plaintiff.
This, in our era, is the same as saying if you do not show up, we gonna set the bounty hunters on you. This is done, albeit rarely, for infraction far less prominent than refused to show up for a Congressional hearing at all.
In the Roman times, falling under the power of your personal enemies, with lawful sanction, even for a short while, was pretty much assurance that you were going to get physically abused, quite badly in some instances. After all, it was a free lunch; you didn't answer a courts summons.
Law IV. If bodily infirmity or advanced age should prevent the party summoned to court from appearing, let him who summoned him furnish him with an animal, as a means of transport. If he is unwilling to accept it, the plaintiff cannot legally be compelled to provide the defendant with a vehicle constructed of boards, or a covered litter.
The message You. Will. Show. Up. No Excuses.
NOt even being involved in an ongoing war -- not fighting, just "involved", was considered legitimate grounds to refuse an apparance before a court. To have once been a person associated with a person who was doing such work, and not in a military capacity, would not have amused the most generous of Roman magistrates. As likely, the lash would have been applied to any wag who tried such a justification. Then the court proceedings would commence, after such contempt was answered.
Law V. If he who is summoned has either a sponsor or a defender, let him be dismissed, and his representative can take his place in court.
Okay, this one needs explaining. From the editor's footnotes in the translation:
From this it will be seen that the office of defensor, or "defender," of the party sued was one of the most ancient recognized by Roman jurisprudence. Its duties were often undertaken without solicitation, through motives of friendship or compassion, or the influence of family ties; and, as the defendant's representative, he occupied the legal position of the former, including the unqualified assumption of all his liabilities arising from, or dependent upon the matter in litigation.
This is not a public defendor; this is a consequence of being on the happy end of patronage. Sometimes, the minor functionary of a powerful merchant family or noble house might run afoul, be it gambling debts or the consequences of getting into a drunken brawl one night, or an accusation of, say, corruption or sabotage of the career of a rival public official.
The text above explains it nicely - In such an event, a wealthier, more reputable person with more to lose in terms of status and reputation would take up your case.
The intent was to have powerful person who might be embarrassed if an underling was brought before a court to settle such matters quickly and quietly or, if they dared defend the innocence of their servant, to be aware of the consequence should their trust be misplaced.
One imagines the example of Pontus Pilate was reprised - The powerful washed their hands of the matter..
What is interesting in the Bush era is that while some are indeed thrown under a bus, there is no consequence for using power to protect vassals who are less than strong candidates for innocence. This again is a breakdown in the judicial process. Those who intervene to subvert justice to their power see their wishes honored, and rule of law suffers.
Were we under Roman law for real, this matter would likely spark a flurry of legal activity, public outcry and preparations for civil strife.
I suppose the Romans, violent semibarbarians as they were, were more law- and justice-conscious than a modern developed civilization.
Law VI. The defender, or the surety of a wealthy man, must himself be rich; but anyone who desires to do so can come to the assistance of a person who is poor, and occupy his place.
Another out for the mighty; have someone more expendable step forward and take the fall. The Romans were pragmatists, after all, and the law was meant as much to conserve the legitimacy of the courts, and therefore the law, and therefore the Roman state -- as any other outcome. Sometimes, the servant was too useful to allow dishonor. Sometimes, the servant was also a lout and probably did do damage. Someties, it was better to have someone stand in. Sure, there were touching instances (maybe) of a good person (or well meaning fool) stepping in the shoes of a convincing defendant who then immediately skipped town while the dupe was sold into slavery to pay his debts, and maybe, just maybe, this worked in cases where a father sacrificed himself to give a son a second chance (deserved or not).
However, as in all things, laws are introduced to uphold principles, but later laws are written to serve the interest of the powerful -- and the state -- first. Machiavelli spoke on this when he stated that it is best to introduce good laws all at once, and preserve them as closely as possible or, if needs be, to replace them all at once.
There is nothing in ancient, medieval or modern legal history to gainsay his observation.
Law VII. When litigants wish to settle their dispute among themselves, even while they are on their way to appear before the Prætor, they shall have the right to make peace; and whatever agreement they enter into, it shall be considered just, and shall be confirmed.
No mystery here. The courts then as now were happy to have less work to do.
Law VIII. If the plaintiff and defendant do not settle their dispute, as above mentioned, let them state their cases either in the Comitium or the Forum, by making a brief statement in the presence of the judge, between the rising of the sun and noon; and, both of them being present, let them speak so that each party may hear.
Then as now, there were complex deals, matters that were not easy to settle in a day. The purpose of this law was transparent -- You had better come prepared to state clearly so that lay persons could quickly understand what wrong has been done.
The purpose is likewise transparent - to reward clarity and punish opacity in one's personal and professional dealings.
Setting "The insurance company did not pay my eligible claim" against "The policyholder is not eligible, and here is why" is fairly straightforward. The time limit serves to mitigate the obfuscation of competing expert testimony and provide a reasonably short period of time in which both court officers and reasonably informed onlookers can hold the shape of the competing arguments together and make useful comparisons.
The Romans were correct; it is not good to let the sun set on an argument. "Let me sleep on it" in most instances does not work.
Law IX. In the afternoon, let the judge grant the right to bring the action, and render his decision in the presence of the plaintiff and the defendant.
Results were swift. This tended to favor the powerful, well-connected, resourceful, prepared and experienced in court processes. A defendant who needed time to prepare arguments might well flee, but under American contemporary circumstances a petition for recess or delay in proceedings to prepare arguments is relatively easy to obtain...up to a point. The Romans were likewise beneficiaries of overworked courts; delays did not bother them greatly, save when excessive.
Generally, though, the practice was for magistrates to catch bad plaintiffs at the onset. The consequence for bringing a frivolous suit before a Roman court was fines for a nobleman, severe beatings for a tradesman. However, again in this the powerful held advantage; Roman magistracies were appointed, and for a long while judges earned their income from court fees and fines past rudimentary stipend to keep up in staff and other aspects of their offices.
This also made magistrates a bit, er, tractable. However, the penalty for being caught taking or offering a bribe was death...and over the time of the Republic and later the Empire, especially the latter-day Dominate period, capital crimes proliferated.
However, I submit this was not a reflection of the robustness of Roman law but as clear an index as possible that, over time, the penalties escalated precisely because of noncompliance and disregard for the laws, the processes and the legitimacy of the state itself.
Consider that hypothesis -- that states with many capital crimes are correlated with high levels of civil and even rebellious opposition to the state. Or, restricting to high levels of economic development, what advanced economy has the most capital crimes? the most persons incarcerated or on a proscribed list as former inmates? the worst reputation as a government, in the opinion of citizens and foreign observers alike?
Any ideas who that case might be?
Law X. The setting of the sun shall be the extreme limit of time within which a judge must render his decision.
Ideally, this compels some judgment to be rendered, and in tough cases should (ideally) err on the side of innocence in our society. Under Roman practice, the errancy went to favor the more powerful party. One suspects this is likewise the case in the contemporary American example.
Original laws -- constitutions or episodes of significant amendment to same -- are promulgated with basic principles in mind. They are intended to be breaks with past behavior, and deliberately made to be difficult to institute and, even if so, are difficult to introduce regardless for people are very resistant to changes in their laws even when their functionality and legitimacy is past.
In American history, only episodes of civil war, high levels of social unrest, or prolonged evidence that new amendments are needed have sufficed to overcome this resistance. The Romans were no different, in fact were even more conservative in writ and about the only way laws were changed -- and changed back -- were episodes of dictatorship (Sulla, Marius, the Grachhi, the Caesars) that resulting in the permanent subordination of the Senate to a neverending succession of tyrants, some competent, brilliant, visionary, generous, industrious, just--- but most were fickle shadows of their better examples.
And the Romans enjoyed that monarchy through the back door, even as they were -- like America -- a society that started under monarchy and swiftly rejected it and hated the very accusation that they had become what they despised. To use the word rex in association with a Caesar was grounds for crucifixion. To say imperator, though, that was different. After all, Rome is ruled by the Senate and the People. Kings are tyrants. Emperors are nothing of the sort. Yeah...that's the ticket...
There are Twelve Tables to Roman Law. They were heavily amended over the centuries, but the magistracy system introduced on the First Table was preserved deep into the Imperial period.
And there is a reason why the summons system sounds so heartbreakingly similar to contemporary law and custom.
More or less, it's what we are supposed to be doing.
Lately, we're adhering to 2,500 years of judicial precedent a lot less.