Worldbuilding Questions: Post #11 – Crime and the Legal System
Hey everybody! I’m super excited to bring you a new worldbuilding post today. Today’s gonna be a bit of a short one as I’m preparing for travel to my internship this summer! Hopefully, I’ll be able to wrap that up soon and settle in for some more interaction with my followers and the ever supportive #writingcommunity.
Today, we’re going to talk about building the laws of your universe. We’ve covered metaphysical laws and magical laws that have governed the greater world. But it’s time to focus on the laws of humans and/or magical beings on a more intimate level. Crime and law can play an interesting role in a fantasy novel. It can create intrigue in a character who’s been on the run from the law for years. It can call into question a ruler’s legitimacy. Law creates a framework for what’s acceptable or unacceptable in your society and can be portrayed as both a social and a moral issue. It can showcase what is important to the people in your world or to the founders of your societies.
Let’s get started! (Again, we’re working from this link!)
Before we start with a few of the more specific questions, I’d like you to sit down and make a list. The first section is going to consist of standard laws that are going to be your basic expectations. Include the magical laws you created in post #5 in this. How does your society feel about murder? Are there any situations where murder is acceptable, such as in self defense? How about theft: common theft and grand theft? Where does kidnapping fall on the scale? The second section is going to include any laws you can think of off the top of your head that will directly play into your story. Don’t be concerned if you can’t think of any at this stage. It isn’t necessary, and you can always add to it later. Now go back through that list and name the punishments for breaking each law or code.
Now, let’s get in to more specific questions. What are the typical and legal ways for gathering evidence? Does your society follow a more standard system of obtaining search warrants, questioning witnesses, and following a structured path? Or can you obtain information through more violent methods such as torture? Are there any magical methods to add to this list? In my world, the Upper Realm has a few users of forensic magic, magic that can backtrace a spell and pinpoint it to a specific magical signature. Mages who have the gift and have studied this extensively can pin down the sex, birthplace , and current location of the caster. Can evidence collected by magical means be entered into a court?
What is the status of weaponry? Can anyone own a weapon or certain types of weapons? Are any groups of people restricted from having access? Do some groups of people who are required to carry a weapon by law?
Are certain spells illegal? Why? How are magic users punished for casting illegal spells? Are there gradations of punishment? Are any magic users above the law? Keep this section in particular in mind as this can influence your characters’ minds as whether to break or not to break said laws.
The Legal System
Are there separate courts for civil and criminal cases? Do separate courts exist for humans and magic users, or are they all tried by the same system? Does a special court exist for the trials of magical crimes? Take care in the choices you make here. If your intention is to create a fair system, you have to have a system of judges that can be impartial. That would require them to have an understanding of both magical and non-magical affairs, whatever that means to you. If you want a corrupt system, feel free to disregard that and blow your whole court system to hell.
Who is responsible for catching criminals? Again, you will need to establish whether there is a separate enforcement group for magical and non-magical beings. How are these people organized? Do they work full-time, part-time, or do they volunteer for the assignment? Are they paid by the government, or has the practice been privatized? Now that I think about it, it could be interesting to see a story where police work had been entirely privatized.
Once someone is caught in violation or in suspicion of violation of a crime, how are they treated? Are they innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven innocent? Are they held anywhere special? What is the procedure for arresting someone?
Who represents the parties of a case? Are there lawyers and advocates, or do the people have to represent themselves in a civil or criminal case? Are there judges other than the ruler or the legislators themselves? How are those people chosen?
I hope I’ve given you a lot to think about today. These questions are super interesting, and I can’t wait to hear what all of you do with it. I love to hear interesting ideas, so feel free to comment below!