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Abolition of Judicial Torture in Early Modern Europe

Autor:   •  December 24, 2017  •  961 Words (4 Pages)  •  324 Views

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The alternative explanation for the declined use of torture and the eventual abolition of judicial torture is exemplified in the doctrine of poena extraordinaria, or “extraordinary punishment”. This doctrine was manipulated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to exploit ambiguities in the law of torture and as a result other forms of punishment such as; galley sentences, imprisonment and sentences to a life hard labour were enacted as alternative convictions (Langbein, 80). For example in Saxony a set of instructions “accompanying the abolition decree directed that in cases of half proof (where torture would formerly have been permissible) sentences to imprisonment at hard labor should henceforth be imposed—life imprisonment for the worst offenses, determinate terms for other serious crimes” (Langbein, 80). Poena extrordinaria and the revolutionary changes in the law of proof replaced torture and eventually led to its abolishment.

The Roman-canon system developed in the Middle Ages implemented radical reorganization of criminal procedure. The relationship between the revolution from this system and the abolition of judicial torture are undeniable (Langbein, 81). Although historians use the “fairy tale” explanation for the abolition of judicial torture it only accounts for one factor. “The abolition of judicial torture was both a juristic and a political event. While the jurists developed the new law of proof, it was the monarchs who rid the legal systems of torture. The new law of proof made the abolition of torture possible, but it did not compel abolition” (Langbein, 82). The writers who are referenced in the “fairy tale” perspective for bringing about the abolition movement may have not, to the fullest extent brought upon the abolition; however they were pivotal in publicizing political, administrative, and intellectual themes of the eighteenth century. It was the dynamic and revolution of the law of proof, which ultimately brought about the abolition of judicial torture.


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