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Early Scottish Justice

In early societies, justice is, in many respects, an affair to be settled between the kindreds of the plaintiff, so to speak, and the defendant. A man is wounded, killed, robbed, wronged in any way; his kin retaliate on the offender and his kindred. The blood-feud, the taking of blood for blood, endured for centuries in Scotland after the peace of the whole realm became, under David I., “the King’s peace.” Homicides, for example, were very frequently pardoned by Royal grace, but “the pardon was of no avail unless it had been issued with the full knowledge of the kin of the slaughtered man, who otherwise retained their legal right of vengeance on the homicide.” They might accept pecuniary compensation, the blood-fine, or they might not, as in Homer’s time. At all events, under David, offences became offences against the King, not merely against this or that kindred. David introduced the “Judgment of the Country” or Visnet del Pais for the settlement of pleas. Every free man, in his degree, was “tried by his peers,” but the old ordeal by fire and Trial by Combat or duel were not abolished. Nor did “compurgation” cease wholly till Queen Mary’s reign. A powerful man, when accused, was then attended at his trial by hosts of armed backers. Men so unlike each other as Knox, Bothwell, and Lethington took advantage of this usage. All lords had their own Courts, but murder, rape, arson, and robbery could now only be tried in the royal Courts; these were “The Four Pleas of the Crown.”

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