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1578

Constitution establishing the Crown Tribunal

Historical context

The title of the supreme judge was one of the powers of a monarch - first in the Kingdom of Poland and then in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. All judgements were rendered in the king's name, he had the power of pardon at his disposal and he was the last instance of appeal. The courts of the first instance in the Jagiellonian monarchy were land courts, magistrate courts and chamberlain courts. The fact that the court system was so complex already at such an early stage was a consequence of the adoption of the principle of inequality before the law - depending on the subject matter of the case, different types of court had to gather, in a relevant composition.

Rulings of courts of the first instance did not necessarily end the proceedings. When the defendant made use of appeal procedures, the case went before the second instance court: the rally court (which ceased to function in the fifteenth century) and the royal court. However, since the king was the final appellate instance, in a state as vast as Rzeczpospolita, it was impossible to conclude all cases. Despite this, discussions regarding the reform of the justice system continued for almost 40 years. On the one hand, king Sigismund Augustus defended his appellate prerogative over all his subjects, and on the other, noblemen were afraid of strengthening the role of the Senate, as those were the times of the executionist movement, which fought with determination to increase the importance of the nobility masses to detriment of the magnates, of whom the Senate was composed.

Finally, king Stephen Báthory was persuaded into a compromise. In 1578, the Polish law judiciary was separated from the monarch and the General Crown Tribunal was established. Similar institutions were established for Lithuania (1581), Prussia (1585) and Ukraine (1589-1590). The Tribunal consisted of judges, called deputies ['deputat'], who were elected once a year, in the number of twenty-seven, at deputies' assemblies. There were no considerable changes in the election of judges until the Constitution of 1764, which required from candidates to have legal expertise, to own land property for more than one year, not to be involved in proceedings and to have a clean criminal record.

 

Document text

Stephan, by the grace of God, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Russia, Prussia, and the territories of Mazovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Volhynia, Podlasie, Kiev and Transylvania, etc.

To be known far and wide, we announce, to each and all who need to know, the ordinances that we have set forth.

The Order of Appointing Judges

In every Province, in every land, in every place wherein old custom dictate the appointment of judges; we designate authoritate praesentis Conventus, the day and time, that is, the first Monday after the birth of Mary of each respective year, for the appointment of judges for the courts judiciorum generalium ordinariorum Tribunalis Regni [...].

Appointment of Judges

During aforementioned councils, each Province shall jointly reach a decision to appoint one single person of reverence, dignity, virtue, lawfulness and righteousness. [...]

The tenure of these appointees may last no longer than to the other court and subsequent judges shall be ad hoc idem judicium sive Tribunal generale appointed at a time and day as defined above. Furthermore, a period of four years must elapse before each judge be allowed to serve the office again, unless a Province governor, nemine contradicente, agrees to grant exception and successfully solicits such favour from said judge. [...]
How should they judge and the matters of clergy

They are to judge fairly in congruence with the register  of the Provincein which they vote while at all times availing themselves of the Common Law of the Land and of the Lord, whose justice shall be their guiding light. Judges are to pass decrees ex scripto, on which two or three judges are to place their respective signatures. Wherever contention occurs, or paritas votorum, they are to proceed with one, two, three per vota so as to grant favour to the side with more legal evidence, and subsequently conclude major pars. All the lands in the possession of the clergy, whether falling under the Zemstvo  Borough or Chamberlain Office law, are to be adjudicated, regardless of any custom or appeal, by the aforementioned Tribunal in congruence with the Common Law. [...]

What are they to judge

They are to judge causas omnes er singulas, in Land Tribunals, Burough or Chamberlain courts, in causis divisionis bonorum, at Rally Courts, permotiones, apellationes, remissiones, limitationes, et alio quovis modo, and all others generaliter, Sejm, or pertaining to the Royal Court, tam ab officijs, quam ex officijs occasione non factae exeqvutionis decreti, aka decretorum, judicuj Tribunalis generalis Regni, hujus ultimeae instantiae, in his rebus quae quae judicio hujus Tribunalis judicandae incumbunter, et judic et aliorum gravaminum ex judicijs, sive officijs Capitaneorum et eorum officialium, circa administrationem justitiae illatorum. All cases which were either in judicijs ultimae instanntiae, or in the Zemstvo or Burough prejudged, y ad locorum Capitaneos pro exeqvutione facienda relegated, wherein under such conditions remain unexecuted, also cases which fell from any past Tribunals ultimae instantiae under the jurisdiction of Provinces, and all other matters, be it old or present appeals, will be adjudicated by this Tribunal. [...]

Places for courts

In Great Poland of Piotrków, to which these Provinces shall belong: Poznańskie, Kaliskie, Sieradzkie, Ziemia Wieluń, Łęczyckie, Brzeskie, Inowrocławskie, Ziemia Dobrzyńska, Mazowieckie, Płockie, Rawskie.

In Lesser Poland of Lublin, to which these Provinces shall belong: Krakowskie, Sandomierskie, Ruskie, Podolskie, Lubelckie, Bełskie, Podlaskie, with the following proviso: those judges who have adjudicated the Provinces of Great Poland in Piotrków are to subsequently make way do Lublin and there adjudicate the Provinces of Lesser Poland for a period specified below. [...]

Prussia

Prussian Provinces shall under our judges fall hence not the Tribunal but we ourselves shall adjudicate.

Lithuanian Kingdom Courts

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania shall adhere to its laws as established by the Union, the improvement of its statute as per the constitution of Lublin, 1569 and in congruence with the oath sworn by His Majesty Henryk and ours, in toto  retaining, for the betterment of such judicial cases of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, while designating the regional councils of Provinces to convene on the 23rd of May of the following year 1578. A greater congress is to be held on the Feast of the Archangels in Nowogródek for the States W.X.Lit. for the betterment of their laws, also this year. This betterment is to be brought fourth to the Sejm of the Commonwealth, for our confirmation. [...]

 

(Volumina Legum vol. II, St. Petersburg 1859, pp. 182­-187)

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