Legal Trivia Compilation



Historically speaking

“The word ordeal is Anglo-Saxon, meaning “judgment”. That is exactly what an
ordeal was assumed to be – God‘s judgment.

In the Middle Ages, ordeals were sanctioned and applied by both Church and State
all over Europe, including Britain.

Ecclesiastical authorities devised special liturgical formulae to accompany the
procedure, and Law Courts approved of several forms of trial. All shared the
principle that God would save the righteous and punish the evil-doer. If the accused
succumbed to the ordeal, his guilt was proved. If he passed through it unscathed,
God had declared him innocent. The individual choice of the ordeal depended on the
standing of the accused.

In the trial by battle, the suspect was forced to fight the person who had charged
him. It was believed that victory would go to the party who was in the right. The
ordeal was not an appeal to force but to God, who would let the righteous win.

In the trial by hot water, the accused had to plunge his hand and arm – up to the
elbow – into boiling water. The hand and arm were then bandaged. If after three
days they showed any injury, this was taken as a divine indication that the man was

In the trial by fire, the suspect was forced to hold in his hand a red-hot iron or,
blind-folded and with bare feet, to walk among nine red-hot ploughshares, placed
haphazardly on the ground. If he passed through the ordeal unharmed, he was
innocent. This type of trial was reserved for a person of high rank who could
appoint a deputy on his behalf.

In the trial by morsel, the accused person had to swallow – in one piece – either bread
or cheese weighing 1 ounce. His innocence was considered proven if he could do so
without effort. But should the “morsel” get stuck in his throat, God had pronounced
him guilty.

In the trial by water, the suspect was thrown, with his hands and feet bound, into
the river. If he sank it was an intimation by God that he was free of guilt. But if he
floated, the opposite was the case.

At first sight and to the reasoning of our mind, such a decision seems rather
paradoxical, and we should have expected it to have been the other way round. But
the apparent contradiction resolves itself, if it is realized that water was considered
the symbol of purity. It rejected the guilty – who therefore floated – but it did not
object to receiving the innocent, who hence drowned!”

“It is now generally agreed that the jury system reached England by way of the
Norman-French kings. Anxious to establish their power, they used to summon a
body of neighbours – the original jury. These were compelled to “take an oath”,
which is the literal meaning of “jury”, stemming from the French, that they would
tell the truth and never mislead their royal master.

Through their appointment, the king was able to obtain all essential information for
the administration of the district in which they resided.

When William I came to England he, too, was concerned, first of all, to establish the
supremacy of the crown and therefore made equal use of a system of jurors.
Summoned by the king’s representative, the royal judge, they had to supply him
with the correct facts concerning their county. They were obliged to do so by oath.

Later, a jury – to be known as a “Grand Jury” – assumed another significant role,
although still completely divorced from its modern tasks. In 1166 a statute issued by
Henry II ordained that 12 lawful men from each 100 should be sworn to accuse
criminals, so that they might be presented for the ordeal. In 1215, as a direct result
of the elimination of the ordeal, the jury itself was called upon to try the accused.”

The black cap that used to be worn by a judge when passing sentence of death was
not a cap at all. It is a three-cornered piece of black silk worn as a sign of mourning.

The ancient Egyptians applied the concept that “Justice is blind” literally. Their
Courts of Law met in a darkened chamber. This made it impossible for a judge to
see and recognize the accuser, defendant and witnesses.

(Rudolph Brasch, How Did It Begin, Ch. 14 Sources of Justice, Angus and
Robertson, 1985)

Unnatural Laws

Murphy’s Law
If anything can go wrong, it will.

O’Tooles Commentary on Murphy’s Law
Murphy was an optimist.

Nonreciprocal Laws of Expectations
As soon as you mention something …
… if it’s good, it goes away.
… if it’s bad, it happens.

Howe’s Law
Every man has a scheme that does not work.

Zymurgy’s First Law of Evolving Systems Dynamics
Once you open a can of worms, the only way to recan them is to
use a larger can.

Etorre’s Observation
The other line moves faster.

Skinner’s Constant (Flannagan’s Finagling Factor)
The quantity which, when multiplied by, divided by, added to, or
subtracted from the answer you get, gives you the answer you should
have gotten.

Law of Selective Gravity
An object will fall so as to do the most damage.

Jenning’s Corollary
The chance of the bread falling with the buttered side down is directly
proportional to the cost of the carpet.

Gordon’s First Law
If a research project is not worth doing at all,
it is not worth doing well.

Maier’s Law
If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.

Hoare’s Law of Large Problems
Inside every large problem is a small problem struggling to get out.

Boren’s First Law
When in doubt, mumble.

The Golden Rule of Arts and Sciences
Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

Barth’s Distinction
There are two types of people: those who divide people into two types,
and those that don’t.

Segal’s Law
A man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches
is never sure.

Ninety-Ninety Rule of Project Schedules
The first 90% of the task takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes
the other 90%.

Faber’s Fourth Law
Necessity is the mother of strange bedfellows.
(From Arthur Bloch‘s Murphy’s Law-and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong
quoted in The Book of Lists by Wallechinsky, Wallace and Wallace)

Harper’s Magazine Law
You never find an article until you replace it.

Klipstein’s Corollary
The most delicate component will be the one to drop.
(Arthur Bloch, Murphy’s Law and Other Reasons Why Things
Go Wrong, 1977)
(There is a page dedicated to Murphy’s laws)

The Peter Principle
In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level
of incompetence.
(Dr Lawrence J. Peter, The Peter Principle, 1969)

(The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humourous Quotations by
Fred Metcalf, Penuin Books, 1986)

Famous American Lawyers Who Never Went to Law School

  • Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), president.
  • Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), a defence attorney in the Scopes trial of 1925. While he attended a law school for one year, he did not distinguish himself and preferred to study law on his own. He received the greater part of his education in a law office in Youngstown, O. (From The Book of Lists by Wallechinsky, Wallace and Wallace)



One response to “Legal Trivia Compilation

  1. Thanks a lot for linking my article to this one. IT is a really interesting summary of a curious lot of laws. I had a fun time reading it (now, that I am no longer as trapped by Murphy’s Law as I had been when I wrote the post).

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