Weekly Archive
January 5, 2003 - January 11, 2003

RE: WW justice

On Sirius' Trial (or lack thereof):

Maria wondered if we should take Sirius' claim that he never received a trial literally.

Ali replied:

I do believe that Sirius did not have a trial, and that his word can be taken literally.

In PoA, Dumbledore tells Harry and Hermione:

"I myself gave evidence to the Minstry that Sirius had been the Potters' Secret-Keeper". P.287 UK Hardback edition

That phrasing is not conclusive evidence that Dumbledore testified in a trial, as he could have been giving evidence that was then never acted upon.

I agree. It is also very similar to the phrasing that Dumbledore uses at Karkaroff's hearing to refer to his vouching for Snape: "I have given evidence already on this matter."

Karkaroff's hearing is not a trial. No jury is present, nor do we see any members of the public or the press in the room, unlike the trials of Bagman and the Pensieve Four. It would seem to be some sort of special tribunal, held in camera. Crouch refers to it as a "council" and specifies that it was "by this council" (emphasis mine) that Snape was also cleared.

I assume that both Sirius' case and Snape's were discussed by that smaller council, but that neither of them ever stood trial.

In fact, it has always somewhat surprised me that Sirius doesn't harbor more bitterness towards Dumbledore for having exerted so little apparent effort on his behalf. Frankly, I think that I'd feel a mite bit grudgy about that, if I were Sirius Black.

Wizarding Conceptions of Human Rights:

Maria went on to say:

Besides, I don't see this use of truth potions as morally acceptable. We don't know anything about the WW Constitution, but I assume it contains all the basic civil rights, which IMHO should prohibit the use of truth potions in trials.

Well, I agree with your evaluation of the moral rectitude of the use of truth potions, but (leaving aside the question of whether or not wizarding UK even has a constitution, which I rather assume that it does not), I see no reason to believe that the wizarding world would share our scruples on this point. After all, the use of the dementors as prison guards is far more morally reprehensible than the use of truth potions, IMO. In fact, under the guidelines currently adopted by the EU, as well as by the Human Rights Commission, it would technically qualify as torture, which, well, a rather serious human rights violation, let us just say. Yet Dumbledore's belief that use of the dementors is unacceptable seems to be dismissed as eccentricity by both Fudge and Moody, and Dumbledore himself does not phrase his objections to the practice in terms of our Muggle conception of human rights at all.

Ali wrote:

I don't know that it would be safe to assume that the WW has a constitution or whether it has what we think of as basic civil rights. . . .

Well, from the nature of Sirius' account of Crouch's regime, I think that it is safe to assume that the WW does at least more or less share our conception of civil rights. Sirius speaks of Crouch's measures as if they represented a suspension of civil liberties that members of the WW ordinarily do view as something akin to "rights of citizenship."

What precisely the WW considers "normal" civil liberties, however, or even "basic human rights," is unclear. My assumption based on the society as it is presented in the canon is that the WW likely has considerably fewer protections placed on civil liberties than its muggle analogue does, and may well not adhere to precisely the same conception of "rights" that we do, but that it is nonetheless more or less culturally congruent with Muggle UK -- in other words, that it is less scrupulous/protective, rather than utterly culturally distinct. The designation of the Unforgivable Curses as the spells carrying the most severe penalty under law, for example, as well as the specification of both Memory Charms and veritaserum as types of magic restricted or controlled by the government, does imply to my mind that the WW's understanding of "human rights" is based in the same fundamental principles as our own.


Sirius tells us that he was not the only person flung into Azkaban without a trial. This suggests the suspension of Habeas Corpus on at least a temporary basis. This is perhaps not dissimilar to the use of internment during wartime, but it is the suspension of a basic human right.

Yes. It would seem that Crouch suspended Habeas Corpus, but that before he did so, it did exist as a fundamental civil right within the wizarding world. When Sirius tells the Trio that he was imprisoned without benefit of trial, not only the Muggle-raised Hermione and Harry, but also the Muggle-ignorant Ron, respond with shock and amazement.

On this subject, though, one of the more disturbing of the many hints the text gives us that the WW's judicial system is deeply flawed, to my mind, is not anything from GoF, but rather, Hagrid's imprisonment in CoS. Unlike the Pensieve scenes, Sirius' conviction without trial, or the authorization of the Dementor's Kiss to be used on him after his escape from prison, Hagrid's "protective custody" is happening in the current day, not in a time of war, and not in regard to someone already condemned (justly or not) to life imprisonment for a violent crime.

The implication as I read it is that the WW does have a conception of right of Habeas Corpus, that Crouch suspended it in response to the crisis of Voldemort's rise, but that it was never reinstated as a legal necessity even after the crisis had passed.

Most disturbing, that.

On a number of levels.


who can get just a little bit paranoid on the subject of habeas corpus.

Posted January 08, 2003 at 4:56 pm
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