Unofficial Law and Order March 16, 2014Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback
Beach has recently been researching out in the bogs of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland so far beyond the pale that children are occasionally incinerated as changelings and there is one alleged case of a legal agent being stoned to death! This was a traditional rural society ruled over as much by priests as by the British administration and one way in which the local population resisted British rule was simply by ignoring the courts with their resident Anglo-Irish magistrates. Irish legal historian Eanna Hickey writes, for example: …’it is averred that there was, in the eighteenth century, no English legal presence in Donegal save for rent collectors and revenue officers hunting for poteen.’ So what happened in Donegal when a burglary or a rape or a murder took place? Well, the priest in a parish would pick a jury of ‘wise men’ (na fir chríonna, memories of village authority) and they would deliberate and decide on guilt and innocence. What is not clear is whether they would punish with death (or thinking of the picture, nuns), or whether we are talking blood fines or perhaps just non-violent punishments, criminals being forced to do penance on hands and knees before the congregation, for example.
There must be many examples from history where societies have ignored official justice systems. A few come to mind. In the 1970s and the 1980s justice (if that is the right word) in South Armagh and West Belfast was dealt out by the IRA. In colonial India, Mike Dash informed me, in an email last fall, village courts operated. Sharia law in the modern UK is a worrying parallel case; as was a recent rape case that the British Socialist Workers Party decided to deal with internally (wth!?). Lynching in the southern states in much of the nineteenth century and a large part of the twentieth century also marked an essential lack of faith in the courts’ ability to dole out the ‘justice’ (again that word) that much of the population looked for. The Mafia and other organized crime groups offers protection and deals with crime (other than its own, of course) in much of southern Italy: and who can forget the undertaker in the Godfather, whose daughters face has been destroyed? Other examples: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com
Of course, there are many parts of the world where a lack of faith in the courts is registered. Many of those areas could even settle on ‘wise men’ to sort out and to arbitrate. But the real problems come when the time for punishment arrives. If the question is purely civil then you take the cow from y and give it to x. Probably no one but y will complain. If there is a rape, though, it is hardly enough (thinking of the example above) to get someone to apologise before a congregation, with the victim’s family grimacing in the front row. However, the other solution is to go all IRA-ey on the criminal, shoot him in both knees and then pay a taxi to take him to the local hospital.