Star Chamber in Context

Author:Akhil Sud
Pages:75-98
SUMMARY

Star Chamber used much discretion, yet not in ways that set it apart from the rest of the early modern English legal system. The popular label to the contrary is a myth. This myth has been partly debunked by some historians. In this paper, I attempt to further debunk it, and in a slightly different way. I use the interaction between power and justice as my analytical lens, to reveal broad... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT
e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
http://www.ijil.org
© 2018 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
star ChamBEr in ContExt
Akhil Sud
Yale Law School
Email: akhil.sud@yale.edu
Star Chamber used much discretion, yet not in ways that set it apart from the
rest of the early modern English legal system. e popular label to the contrary
is a myth. is myth has been partly debunked by some historians. In this paper,
I attempt to further debunk it, and in a slightly dierent way. I use the interac-
tion between power and justice as my analytical lens, to reveal broad parallels
between Star Chamber and the common law criminal justice system. I hope
to show that similar goals underlay the law in both realms, and that the two
were therefore not fundamentally dierent. ough only one survived, they were
products of the same age and philosophy. e broader signicance of this paper
lies in the fact that Star Chamber is an excellent case study for larger lessons
about history, norms, and morality. It uses sound historical method by arguing
that the right baseline for evaluating Star Chamber is its context, and not mor-
al sensibilities today. In addition to espousing methodological soundness, this
paper seeks to preserve history’s normative power: if we despise Star Chamber
because it was especially tyrannical, we will conate incongruity with immoral-
ity. We can continue to despise Star Chamber, but we must also acknowledge
its congruity with its context. Once we do that, we will be more conscious of a
crucial principle: just because something is normal doesn’t mean it’s moral.
Keywords: Common Law, Law and History, Legal System, Comparative Law, Judicial
System.
V Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law 75-98 (January 2018)
76
Sud
INTRODUCTION
Star Chamber is steeped in myth. An arguably standard account calls it
an English court of law established by act of Parliament, possibly in the
eenth century, operating outside the common law, authorized by the
monarchs prerogative and run by the monarchs councilors. But neither
its origin nor its nature is certain. Historians believe it was older than
the misleadingly named Star Chamber Act of 1487.1 Some also believe
it was less a court of law, and more an all-purpose deliberative body.2
But the label that sticks the most is the most tarnishing one—that Star
Chamber worked nefariously, in complete disregard for the common
law, ignoring its defenses and processes. Star Chamber “stripped the
delinquent of his constitutional defense . . . and le him open to the ca-
pricious and tyrannical will and humor of arbitrary judges.3 e Long
Parliament abolished the court in 1641 for exceeding its jurisdiction,
for its arbitrary proceedings, and for its cruel and excessive punish-
ments.4 And now Star Chamber is “one of modern history’s few really
dirty words;”5 “a synonym for secrecy, severity, and the wresting of jus-
tice.6
Some historians have somewhat dispelled even this myth—mostly
by arguing that Star Chamber was not all that nefarious. Star Chamber
observed process to a fault;7 it punished contempt of common law
courts and abuse of procedure;8 it granted counsel and opportunities
for testimony which even the common law didn’t;9 the monarch’s
1. Infra note 88.
2. A. F. Pollard, Council, Star Chamber, and Privy Council under the Tudors: II.
e Star Chamber, 37 E. H. R. 516, 518-520 (1922).
3. Daniel L. V. Zande, Coercive Power and the Demise of the Star Chamber, 50 A.
J. L H. 326, 326 (2010).
4. Id. at 330.
5. omas G. Barnes, Star Chamber Mythology, 5 A. J. L H. 1, 1 (1961).
6. Edward P. Cheyney, e Court of Star Chamber, 18 A. H. R. 727, 727
(1913).
7. Barnes, supra note 5, at 5.
8. Barnes, supra note 5, at 7.
9. Barnes, supra note 5, at 9.

To continue reading

REQUEST YOUR TRIAL