Small Claims

James E. Shaw

in The Justice of Venice

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263778
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734823 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs

Small Claims

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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While criminal justice emphasizes the role of law as an instrument of control, the study of civil justice presents an alternative view of the law as a resource. The criminal branch of the Giustizia Vecchia enforced market rules in partnership with the guilds, but parallel to this was a civil branch that considered private disputes. This chapter examines how far this civil justice was accessible to ordinary people. In particular, it asks whether the Giustizia Vecchia can be defined as a court of equity or as a court of law, and analyses the practical consequences of this for ordinary people. The vast majority of lawsuits fall into the category of small claims, defined in Venice as those worth up to 50 ducats. It was to keep legal costs down as far as possible, even if this meant accepting lower standards of justice.

Keywords: civil justice; criminal justice; Giustizia Vecchia; court of equity; court of law; lawsuits; Venice

Chapter.  17849 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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