Vallerani, “Medieval Public Justice”

Harold Berman famously argued that Western legal culture originated in the papal reforms of the High Middle Ages, which unleashed a torrent of law making throughout society. Catholic University Press has just released an English-language translation of University of Turin historian Massimo Vallerani’s work on the evolution of criminal trials in medieval Italy, Medieval Public Justice (2012), which includes statistical analyses of surviving court records. The publisher’s description follows.

In a series of essays based on surviving documents of actual court practices from Perugia and Bologna, as well as laws, statutes, and theoretical works from the 12th and 13th centuries, Massimo Vallerani offers important historical insights into the establishment of a trial-based public justice system. Challenging the long-standing evolutionary paradigm of medieval legal procedures, Vallerani argues that public justice was not the triumph of strong inquisitorial procedure over weak accusatory procedure, but rather a process in which the two procedures developed in tandem. He demonstrates that inquisition and accusation shared many features in their intertwining goals of punishment and reconciliation.

The grand narrative of the evolution of criminal justice is dismantled in this work, originally published in Italian and widely cited as a groundbreaking study of legal procedure. Vallerani contends that accusatio and inquisitio were formed simultaneously to address different needs: to seek and construct different “truths”–the truth of the fact that occurred outside the courtroom as revealed by the probing of the judge, and the truth that emerges inside the triadic model of the courtroom as a result of negotiations between the disputing parties under the guidance of the judge.

Vallerani’s rich approach to his sources includes statistical analysis of the court records, revealing the functioning of the courts in terms of the incidence of torture, the proportions of trials initiated by accusatio and inquisitio, and the percentage of trials suspended at different stages of litigation. Furthermore, he sets legal procedures within the context of a society and political world immersed in violence and conflict and shows how the supplica, or petition for pardon, played a major role in the transformation from communal to signorial government in the early fourteenth century.

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