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Original scientific paper

The Tempo of the Court Activity and Duration of Criminal Proceedings in Eighteenth-Century Dubrovnik

Goran Cvjetinović
Ruža Radoš
Nella Lonza orcid id

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page 317-358

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Based on the analysis of the records of the central Criminal Court in Dubrovnik in the period 1711- 1720, 1751- 1760 and 1791-1800, the authors discuss the tempo in which the court acted and passed verdicts as well as the duration of the legal proceedings. Despite the regulations designed to speed up the procedure and secure a regular pronouncement of verdict, the court showed little activity in January, slowed all handlings before and after the summer holidays, and went in full swing with passing of verdicts only in December, on the termination of the court’s one-year term of office. The mentioned rhythm is indicative of all the three periods under study, in that by the turn of the century it tended towards extreme forms (e.g. half of the verdicts were passed at the last hearing in December). The proceedings tended to take longer and longer time: while in 1711-1720 almost one half of all lawsuits were completed within the term of three months, in 1790-1800 the majority of them lasted well over six months. The trend of the extension of the procedure is especially evident with petty offences. In all the three periods, the lengthiest proceedings were those in which the rural community was sued on the basis of collective responsibility (crop damages, damages due to cattle-trespass, certain thefts), because of the time lost at the shift from the stages that took place before the state institutions and those under the authority of the rural community. A thorough analysis of a sample of cases shows that their lengthy duration cannot be accounted by gathering of evidence or any serious legal problem. A large number of them were ready for a verdict months before the court eventually pronounced the sentence. The fact whether the action was initiated by a plaintiff or ex officio had little impact on this delay. The slower tempo of the completion of lawsuits no doubt owed mostly to an increasing number of cases before the court, considering that the number of judges sitting in them remained the same. Also, depletion of the nobility and clan feuds contributed greatly to the difficulty in filling the vacant offices of the Dubrovnik Republic, which delayed the proceedings, because the court was not allowed to pass sentences when incomplete. The widespread spiritual crisis of the end of the eighteenth century gave way to apathy and indifference in executing public duties, the office of judge being no exception. This probably explains the long periods of insufficient court activity, followed by the sudden completion of a large number of cases at the end of mandate, i.e. in the last weeks of the year.


Dubrovnik; 18th century; criminal proceeding; Criminal court

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