Created By: fulltimeD on February 21, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on June 3, 2012

Weird Judicial System

Accused, prepare for telepathic thought-extraction. The Computer shall decide your fate.

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Please note that I am not a legal expert and this YKTTW is written from a pop-culture perspective...

This trope is in effect when trials are notably different from what an audience expects based on their culture's legal traditions: this is usually a sign that a setting is Twenty Minutes into the Future or in an Alternate Universe, or any other number of fantastic (as well as historical) settings.

How this is played can vary: frequently the result is Draconian, without any of the civil liberties the viewer is accustomed to, and often there are no lawyers and but a single judge/jury/executioner. However, it doesn't have to be this way. Making a high stakes legal trial into a TV show is another variation, perhaps with audience participation in the role of judge or jury. Another variation uses telepathy to extract the truth or as a psionic lie detector. Another common variation is to have a computer or multiple computers determine the outcome of all or part of the legal proceedings. May or may not be a Kangaroo Court. However, this is distinct from Kangaroo Court in that a Kangaroo Court can have a defense attorney, a jury, the whole shebang, but all them are hopelessly biased towards prosecution. This court doesn't have these institutions, but it may or may not be biased towards prosecution (depending on the setting and drama requirements of the story). Kangaroo Court is about that hopeless bias, and this is about the structure of the court itself. Trial by Combat is a Sub-Trope. May be occasionally related to Artistic License – Law.

No matter the variation (and there are many, too many to list, so we'll let the examples speak for themselves), this is usually a sign that not all is right with the world the story is set in.

Because this trope frequently depends on the audience's cultural expectations, it would be wise to observe No Real Life Examples.


Examples


Anime&Manga
  • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: it's basically a game show called "Judgement Day". There is a host with crazy eyes, the prosecutor is Tom Cruise, the appointed defense attorney is a monkey equipped with a device to let it speak, and the audience is the jury.

Literature
  • Kafka's The Trial: No charges. No explanations. Just brutal, bureaucratic oppression grinding a man down into submission and executing him.
  • Empire from the Ashes: Trials conducted under Imperial Law can and usually do include a lie detector machine. Also legal proceedings are described as being significantly different from the protagonist's US based legal system.
  • Robert Heinlein's The Star Beast. After the alien creature Lummox goes on a destructive rampage, the Department of Spatial Affairs holds a hearing over the matter. The trial is held in a very informal manner for a court of law, and a "truth meter" (lie detector) is available for witnesses. A witness is not required to use the machine, but the court will take notice (i.e. take their testimony less seriously) if they don't.
  • Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper features a lie detector machine called "The Verdicator".
    • Describe the setting, please, in the main thread, not the OP.

Live-Action Television
  • Max Headroom: Twenty Minutes into the Future, we will have computerized trials... on floppy disk!
  • The computers will still act as judges 700 years later, according to Blake's 7, but humans will be pronouncing the sentences, at least, in Space Command (military) court-martials.
  • Sliders: Quinn once ended up on the game show variation on a parallel Earth
  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Obsolete Man": In a future totalitarian state a man is put on trial for having an obsolete profession - being a librarian. The trial he receives is a complete kangaroo court - the only real input he has is how he will be executed. At the end of the episode the judge who convicted him is given his own unfair trial.
  • In the Star Trek The Next Generation pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint", Q puts Humanity On Trial, using a courtroom backdrop taken from Earth's Dark And Troubled Past, complete with a judge seated on a throne rather than behind a desk, and chainmail-wearing, machine gun-toting, drug-snorting bailiffs. During the trial, one of the bailiffs misbehaves and is executed for the offense in the courtroom, much to the delight of the unruly crowd of rag-tag post-apocalyptic survivors.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the outcomes of Cardassian trials are known from the start. All criminals are guilty, otherwise they wouldn't be on trial. Trials are broadcast live, all over Cardassia. Each trial is a drama, a propaganda performance piece that reinforces the public's thirst for justice.
  • The Prisoner uses mock trials with odd rules in a number of episodes, notably "Dance of the Dead". Then it tops them all in the final episode "Fall Out" with a weird tribunal that's a total Mind Screw - perhaps literally as far as Number Six is concerned.
  • A Farscape episode featured a Planet of Hats with a population of 90% lawyers, 10% oppressed "utilities." Their legal system was overly complicated, as complicating the law provided work for most of the populace, but it was all inextricably tied to a single book called the Axiom which outlined how a mystical "Light of Truth" (in the episode, provided by Moya) could overturn the results of a conviction. Zhaan got caught up in the schemes of one of the planet's ruling law firms.
  • In Babylon 5, the law has been updated to deal with the existence of telepaths: evidence obtained during telepathic scans is not admissible in court.

Video Games

  • In Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, there are a number of differences in their trial system, not least of which is that trials only take 3 days during which the defendant is considered guilty unless proven otherwise by their attorney. The trials also lack juries, although that's probably due to the game being Japanese.

Webcomics

Western Animation

  • Futurama features a number of humorous courtroom innovations.
    • In one trial that serves as a Shout Out to the Star Trek The Original Series episode, "The Menagerie", witnesses are seated in an enclosed wheelchair and required to respond to yes - no questions by pressing a footpedal rather than speaking.
    • The Supreme Court justices, rather than going into a private conference room and returning a verdict after hours of deliberations, communicate by telepathy, allowing them to determine verdicts in less than a minute.
  • 'Justice League had an episode where Green Lantern was accused and tried for destroying a populated alien planet. Three holographic floating heads served as his judge and jury. Although defense attorneys are allowed at this alien court, they're quite rare--lawyers who fail to get an acquittal are executed along with their client. "That's how we solved our lawyer problem!"
    • A(nother?) Justice League episode has an alien trial reveal the defendant doesn't have a lawyer under their system, so Flash volunteers. Then he finds out the reason they don't have lawyers is because the sentence applies to both lawyer and defendant, and they tend towards Hanging Judge...

Community Feedback Replies: 56
  • February 21, 2012
    animeg3282
    do we have Trial By Combat? a subtrope perhaps
  • February 21, 2012
    TomWalpertac2
    Literature example:

    • Empire From The Ashes: Trials conducted under Imperial Law can and usually do include a lie detector machine. Also legal proceedings are described as being significantly different from the protagonist's US based legal system.
    • Some works in H Beam Piper's 'verse feature a lie detector machine called "The Verdicator".
  • February 21, 2012
    aurora369
    "Special troikas" in Stalinist USSR. You don't have a defence attorney, the judges have no respect for your liberties, and, most likely, you'll get 10 years of The Gulag.
  • February 21, 2012
    TBTabby
    Almost always a Kangaroo Court.
  • February 22, 2012
    Arivne
    See also Humanity On Trial, which is quite often this trope as well.

    Literature
    • Robert Heinlein's The Star Beast. After the alien creature Lummox goes on a destructive rampage, the Department of Spatial Affairs holds a hearing over the matter. The trial is held in a very informal manner for a court of law, and a "truth meter" (lie detector) is available for witnesses. A witness is not required to use the machine, but the court will take notice (i.e. take their testimony less seriously) if they don't.

    Live Action TV
    • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Obsolete Man". In a future totalitarian state a man is put on trial for having an obsolete profession - being a librarian. The trial he receives is a complete kangaroo court - the only real input he has is how he will be executed. At the end of the episode the judge who convicted him is given his own unfair trial.
  • February 22, 2012
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Would these count?

    Live Action Television:
    • In the Star Trek The Next Generation pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint", Q puts Humanity On Trial, using a courtroom backdrop taken from Earth's Dark And Troubled Past, complete with a judge seated on a throne rather than behind a desk, and chainmail - wearing, machinegun - toting, drug - snorting bailifs. During the trial, one of the bailifs misbehaves and is executed for the offense in the courtroom, much to the delight of the unruly crowd.

    Western Animation:
    • Futurama features a number of humorous courtroom innovations.
      • In one trial that serves as a Shout Out to the Star Trek The Original Series episode, "The Menagerie", witnesses are seated in an enclosed wheelchair and required to respond to yes - no questions by pressing a footpedal rather than speaking.
      • The Supreme Court justices, rather than going into a private conference room and returning a verdict after hours of deliberations, communicate by telepathy, allowing them to determine verdicts in less than a minute.
      • One of the lawyers is a giant talking chicken, who speaks with a Southern Fried Genius accent.
  • February 22, 2012
    elwoz
    If I remember correctly, the lie detector in H Beam Piper stories was called the veridicator, not the verdicator.
  • February 22, 2012
    Shnakepup
    How is this different from Kangaroo Court? I'm assuming you're meaning for this to be a supertrope of that, but how in what way is Kangaroo Court more specific than what you're going for here? Or to put it another way, how is this more general than Kangaroo Court?
  • February 22, 2012
    captainsandwich
    i can't believe the Panty And Stocking With Garterbelt isn't here. seriously the trial is like a game show
  • February 22, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Whats wrong with snow cones? i thought we were supposed to use them so titles of pages would be easier to remember.
  • February 22, 2012
    Generality
    A title like Atypical Trial presents a problem; it suggests that the legal system we are familiar with is somehow inherently normal or morally standard. Something like Our Judicial System Is Different, snowclone that it is, describes the idea more correctly.
  • February 22, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^^^ Kangaroo Court seems to be specifically when a trial is nothing but a sham.

    Webcomics
  • February 22, 2012
    Irrisia
    Occasionally related to Artistic License Law, perhaps.

    In Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, there are a number of differences in their trial system, not least of which is that trials only take 3 days during which the defendant is considered guilty unless proven otherwise by their attorney. The trials also lack juries, although that's probably due to the game being Japanese.
  • February 22, 2012
    lebrel
    Tip: Remove the apostrophes from the laconic. For some reason, it borks the formatting and you get endlessly expanding escape characters.
  • February 22, 2012
    Generality
    Or just remember to remove them each time you edit.
  • February 22, 2012
    MetaFour
    • Justice League had an episode where Green Lantern was accused and tried for destroying a populated alien planet. Three holographic floating heads served as his judge and jury. Although defense attorneys are allowed at this alien court, they're quite rare--lawyers who fail to get an acquittal are executed along with their client. "That's how we solved our lawyer problem!"
  • February 22, 2012
    MorganWick
    Captainsandwich, snowclones are okay if the trope is actually the definition implied by the snowclone. If they aren't, people will think they are.
    • The Order Of The Stick: In the Empire of Blood, all trials have two outcomes: either you plead guilty, or you piss the judge off with a lengthy trial before being found guilty.
    • The legal system of trolls in Homestuck works like this. (someone else expand)
  • February 23, 2012
    fulltimeD
    @Generality: Agreed. The title does present problems.

    re: Kangaroo Court: that has nothing to do with establishing the setting. This does.
  • February 23, 2012
    Chabal2
    A Justice League episode has an alien trial reveal the defendant doesn't have a lawyer under their system, so Flash volunteers. Then he finds out the reason they don't have lawyers is because the sentence applies to both lawyer and defendant, and they tend towards Hanging Judge...
  • February 23, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Any suggestions for alternative titles besides Our Judicial System Is Different?
  • February 23, 2012
    LeeM
    • The Prisoner uses mock trials with odd rules in a number of episodes, notably "Dance of the Dead". Then it tops them all in the final episode "Fall Out" with a weird tribunal that's a total Mind Screw - perhaps literally as far as Number Six is concerned.
  • February 23, 2012
    LeeM
  • February 23, 2012
    chicagomel
    • Animorphs had the Vissers' trial before the Council of Thirteen, the ruling body (aside from the Emperor) of the Yeerk Empire. Part of the trial was facilited by memory dumps, which their technology allowed. They didn't appear to have any lawyers or anything, just telling the Council their stories and reviewing the memory dumps.

    I know there was an Earth Final Conflict example with Renee's boyfriend Todd, but the details escape me.
  • February 24, 2012
    Stratadrake
    The suggested OOTS example is definitely Kangaroo Court.
  • February 24, 2012
    fulltimeD
    @chicagomel: There was an episode where the Irish Protector (Liam Kincaid's biological mother, I forget her name) hallucinated a vision of herself on trial with Da'an as the Judge (wearing plastic soda can packaging over his costume!) If I recall correctly, the "trial" had a very Taelon feel to it.

    I stopped watching after Season 4, so if it was an S5 episode, I wouldn't know about it.
  • February 25, 2012
    aurora369
    This is distinct from Kangaroo Court. A Kangaroo Court can have a defence attorney, a jury, the whole shebang, but all them are hopelessly biased towards prosecution. This court doesn't have these institutions, but it may or may not be biased towards prosecution. Kangaroo Court is about that hopeless bias, and this is about the structure of the court itself.
  • February 25, 2012
    MorganWick
    Hmm. Needs A Better Laconic, then.

    Our Judicial System Is Different doesn't fit the Our X Are Different snowclone pattern. Is there a problem with Fantastic Trial?
  • February 25, 2012
    fulltimeD
    @Morgan Wick: I replaced the original title, "Atypical Trial," with "Fantastic Trial," for several reasons, mainly because 1) the original title implied a normative set of legal traditions irrespective of cultural relativity (I also tried to address this issue be rewriting the description) and 2) because this trope often is used to establish or reinforce a fantastic setting. Personally I think "Our Judicial System Is Different" is a clear and appropriate title, but I don't want this YKTTW to get cut because of its title alone, so I have avoided using that name so far. I would like to know if there is a consensus about this.
  • February 25, 2012
    Generality
    The problem with Fantastic Trial is that it implies, well, fantasy, and will create the impression that it applies only to trial systems that have some supernatural or fantastical element to them. While that does indeed seem to be mostly the case, it's not exclusively so.
  • February 25, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Thursday Next is tried for altering the ending of Jane Eyre, first in a sort of preliminary hearing in Kafka's trial, then before Lewis Carroll's characters (the King and Queen of Hearts, a jury that includes the Dormouse, the White Rabbit as a bailiff).
  • February 25, 2012
    fulltimeD
    @Generality: Okay, any suggestions? I really would just like to go with Our Judicial System Is Different, to be honest, but I know that will get shot down
  • February 25, 2012
    MorganWick
    Frankly, I wouldn't have a problem with a title like Unusual Court or something. Something tells me that if that sort of title is too culture-centric, then the whole trope is.
  • February 26, 2012
    fulltimeD
    How about Otherworldly Legal System or Otherwordly Court? I hardly think that is too culture-specific. Also see my rewrites above.
  • February 26, 2012
    fulltimeD
    As I see it this trope isn't culturally-specific, but the specifics of how it's played could vary between cultures: Japanese sci-fi and other media would likely show legal systems that would be shocking to a Japanese audience, if not all audiences, while western works would show legal systems that would be shocking to a western audience, if not all audiences.
  • February 26, 2012
    randomsurfer
    On Star Trek Deep Space Nine it's revealed that Cardassian trials are purely for show, everything has been decided beforehand. And only those already declared guilty get one.
  • March 1, 2012
    MorganWick
    Hmm. "Otherworldly" or "another world" seems to me to make it sci-fi-specific, excluding fantasy.
  • March 3, 2012
    captainsandwich
    describe it. ok its like a game show. the live audience is also the jury http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPjQ5BLlla0
  • March 3, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Agree with Morgan. At the risk of snowcloning, Our Justice Is Different?

    Could also benefit from a better laconic, one that doesn't imply a Kangaroo Court.
  • March 3, 2012
    MarkThis
    Well, it's not a matter of "justice", but of "Judicial System". I think Our Judicial System Is Different is pretty okay. If scnowlconing is such a big deal, just call it Different Judicial Systems In Fiction.

    Heck, it might be funny to write an article based on Aristotle's Politics, classifying fictional settings according to law, constitution, political systems, judicial systems...
  • March 3, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    On one episode of Star Trek Voyager, B'Elanna Torres is tried under a system where aggressive thoughts are literally thoughtcrimes, since everyone on that planet is telepathic. In another episode, Paris and Kim are imprisoned on a world where guilty verdicts are irreversible despite any new evidence.
  • March 3, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Tried to fix the laconic. Will add newer examples later.
  • May 27, 2012
    captainsandwich
    um which is supposed to by our judicial system? i am sure there are a variety of real world judicial systems? is this trope any judicial system that is not in the real world. any that is uncommon in the real world, or any that doesn't match a certain country?
  • May 27, 2012
    HawkofBattle
    • Stargate SG-1 had an episode where Teal'c was put on trial for murder. The accuser was also his judge and it was taken for granted by the planets natives that he was guilty until proven innocent (because if he was really innocent, then there wouldn't be a trial in the first place). Made more complicated by the fact that Teal'c really was guilty and wanted to face punishment for his crime.

    • Used a couple of times in Red Dwarf, once with a time travelling robot who would take the form and personality of the person on trial in order to determine if that person had lived a productive and full life. Those who hadn't would be erased and replaced with those who had never had a chance to exist, to see if they could make better use of the life that was given them.

      • On another occasion, the crew visited an automated prison that scanned the minds of people entering it to determine if they were guilty of any crime, leading to Rimmers imprisonment as he was subconsciously guilty of killing the Red Dwarf crew despite it not being his fault.
  • May 28, 2012
    Fanra
    This is not Kangaroo Court as these systems may be fair. Of course, you can have both.

    Example:
    • In The Demolished Man, it is revealed in the end that their system of justice involves a computer which reviews the case and decides in minutes if the person is guilty or not. Note that it is not a Kangaroo Court, as the computer is very tough to convince. You need real evidence someone is guilty, indeed the need to find the evidence drives Powell's actions (and the plot).
  • May 28, 2012
    Shrikesnest
    • In the Avatar The Last Airbender espisode "Avatar Day," Aang is arrested by a small town for crimes committed in one of his past lives. Sokka and Katara spend most of the episode sleuthing out proof of his innocence. However, when they present their evidence to the town's leader he cries, "Evidence!? That isn't how our justice system works!" and then "tries" Aang by spinning the wheel of punishment.
  • May 29, 2012
    SharleeD
    • In Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, the trial of the Knave of Hearts is a comic sham, in which (among other things) the Queen argues that the sentence should come before the verdict.
  • May 29, 2012
    elwoz
    Frank Herbert's Con Sentiency novels feature the Gowachin legal system, which is worked out in detail from three principles:
    • It is the solemn duty of every "Legum" (lawyer) to avoid litigation.
    • Disobeying the law, especially old law, is a meritorious act.
    • In a trial, Anyone Can Die, including judges; moreover, at least one execution is mandatory in every trial.
  • May 31, 2012
    FastEddie
    Lose the snowclone name. Bizarre Court might work.
  • May 31, 2012
    fulltimeD
  • May 31, 2012
    randomsurfer
    See Computerized Judicial System for...computerized judicial systems.
  • May 31, 2012
    JonnyB
    • In the film, Starship Troopers, one of the inter-act "FedNet" features shows a glimpse at their judicial system. Saying their justice is swift is an understatement.
      FedNet Announcer: A murderer was caught this morning and tried today. Execution tonight at six, all net, all channels.
  • May 31, 2012
    BrokenEye
    You know, some mediæval judicial systems simply had you swear and the Bible that you didn't do it, because they believed that if you lied while swearing on the Bible, the Bible would burn your hand.

    So yeah, that's also where swearing on the Bible comes from. Luckily, we've Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions
  • June 1, 2012
    Arivne
    I have changed the name from Our Judicial System Is Different because when Fast Eddie says to change the name (as he did above ^^^^^), it means he will discard it without further warning if it isn't changed, and will Cut List it if it's launched with that title.

    I like this trope and want to give it a chance, so I will also give it a hat.
  • June 1, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    ^I've put a request in the Our Xes are Different forum thread, since Everythings Worse With Snowclones mentions this snowclone as an exception to the rule due to the fact that examples of these snowclones tend not to be Zero Context Examples.
  • June 3, 2012
    Hertzyscowicz
    Our Xes Are Different is allowed for different stock creatures, so this doesn't qualify, in my opinion.

    Also, would the comic Judge Dredd count? The Judges are elite law enforcement with Judge Jury And Executioner privileges, and criminal trials are frequently carried out on the street. Of course, the criminal trial consists of the judge pointing sternly at the criminal and stating the penalty, and possibly the offense.
  • June 3, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Whether or not it is related to the snowclone is not always the same thing as whether or not it's a good title on its own merits. Take, for example, Our Nudity Is Different.
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