Natalini-IMG_2178 - CopiaThe Judge and his Conscience:

A Sixteenth-Century ‘Dialogue on Justice’ (1541)*


cecilia natalini

University of Trento



CONTENTS: 1. Introduction. – 2. The decretal Quoniam contra falsam of Pope Innocent III and the sollicitudo of the judge. – 3. Sansovino and the organization of the legal proceedings. – 4. Between Bartolus and Sansovino: ‘iudicare secundum conscientiam’.



1. – Introduction


The conscience of the judge plays an essential role in the development of the legal procedure of all times. We can say that the historic development of legal thought has fostered a broad range of meanings of the term ‘conscience of the judge’. The historical sources and the scientific literature have employed the conscience in explaining many legal concepts: primarily the personal knowledge and the discretion of the judge, the bribery of the judge and his incompetence. So – as has been said – the «conscience appears to be a privatized or subjective notion»[1]. Instead my concern in this paper is a further sense of the conscience of the judge, i.e. the ‘duty of care’ (sollicitudo), according to the content developed in a Dialogue on Justice written in the early forties of the 16th century by the Italian jurist Francesco Sansovino.

Francesco Sansovino was educated in law in Venice, Padua and Bologna. He drew up the Dialogue by rendering in a dramatic form and in Italian vernacular some important treaties by the great 14th century jurist Bartolus of Sassoferrato (1313-1357): the ‘Tractatus de ordine iudiciorum’ (a treaty on legal proceedings), the ‘Tractatus testimoniorum’ (on witnesses) and the ‘Tractatus de regimine civitatis’ (on city government)[2]. Therefore Sansovino captures our attention because his renewed presentation in vernacular of Bartolus’s texts suggests continuity between the middle ages and early modernity. Well, in what does such continuity consist in relation to the conscience of the judge?

The question becomes more important because of the very probable misattribution to Bartolus of the ordo Haec sunt, largely translated into vernacular in the Dialogue: an ordo, i.e. a treaty, in the words of the German historian Linda Fowler, «dealing with judicial procedure from the beginning of the trial to the sentence, appeal or execution»[3]. The ordo Haec sunt was attributed to Bartolus and edited by Gustav Adolph Martin in 1826 with the title of Tractatus de ordine iudiciorum[4]. However in the second half of the 19th century it was already assumed that the work was one of the re-editions of the ordo Ad summariam notitiam (written after 1234) and attributed to Petrus Hispanus Portugalensis, who was active in the first half of the 13th century[5]. Especially Carl Ferdinand Reatz (1864) considered unlikely that a jurist such as Johannes Andreae ignored Bartolus’s treaty on legal proceedings without mentioning it in his works: an oddity and an eloquent authoritative omission[6]. So it is still possible to give credit to Reatz’s observation. Therefore, Bartolus’s authorship of the Treaty on legal proceedings still remains unlikely.

In reality Sansovino was not interested in the authorship of the ordo Haec sunt: probably, he reviewed one of the print editions of his time, intentionally responsible for the misattribution to Bartolus, which was aimed at increasing the circulation of the work[7]. The authenticity of the sources, which is so important for humanists, is overshadowed by the need – also typical of the humanistic method – to conceive a work on legal practice free from ancient authorities. Consequently Sansovino does not declare the background of his Dialogue[8]. Therefore, it is not appropriate to discuss here the authorship of the treaty. I intend instead to discuss the essential reasons that stimulated a translation into vernacular of a treaty of law proceedings attributed to Bartolus. In other words, why did Sansovino use the ordo Haec sunt in outlining his Dialogue? An answer to this question can be attempted first by observing that the ordo Ad summariam notitiam, from which the ordo Haec sunt derives, contains some remarkable innovations. One of these consists in numbering the proceedings in ten steps: (quote) «Ad summariam noticiam consueti cursus causarum distingue decem tempora circa totalem causam» (end of quotation)[9].



2. – The decretal ‘Quoniam contra falsam’ of Pope Innocent III and the sollicitudo of the judge


A closer inspection reveals that the numbered order of proceedings derives from the decretal Quoniam contra falsam of Pope Innocent III [10], that is from canon 38 of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)[11]. This is important because that decretal was crucial in refining the legal procedure of the time, as confirmed in the latter humanistic interpretation[12]. Therefore we need to go back to the Quoniam contra falsam in order to appreciate the originality of the ordo Ad summariam notitiam. The decretal establishes the presence of a public servant (publica persona, i.e. a notary), or of two qualified subjects, to record in writing the proceedings, classifying each individual stage of the proceedings. The purpose of the decretal is to prevent the prevarication of unfairness (iniquitas) on fairness (aequitas) and thus prevent the judge from unfairly condemning an innocent litigant who is in difficulty in proving the judge’s false statement[13]. The records have to be delivered to the parties. So, if the judge is accused of any false statement (falsa assertio), some other fair and reasonable judges (honesti et discreti) will seek the truth in order to prevent injustice. Therefore, the accused judge will be prosecuted by a higher judge, who will adjudicate not according to the conclusive presumption of the judge’s fairness (officium iudicis), but according to the judicial records. Therefore, without such records, the judge’s statement will be unfounded because unprovable. As you can see, this provision enhances the medieval guarantees: it does not focus on a lack of jurisdiction or on bribery, but rather on the responsibility of the judge who punishes the innocent litigant superficially (improvidus) and therefore unfairly (iniquus). The use of the term fair, opposed to superficial and unfair, is highly relevant with regard to the false statement of the judge: the uprightness (honestas), the ability to discern (discretio) are opposed to the recklessness (improvidentia) and unfairness (iniquitas): they are sources of liability because they are typical of an inert, negligent and superficial professional conduct. So the uprightness includes the judge’s duty of care (sollicitudo ut iudex). Therefore, the judge’s conduct is appreciated on the basis of the willingness to do justice and implement whatever is in his power of adjudication: of course ut iudex.

Therefore, the decretal Quoniam contra falsam prevents and punishes the subjective omission, i.e. the false and unfounded statement made by the judge who did not collect and sufficiently ponder upon the evidence on which his judgment should rest.



3. – Sansovino and the organization of the legal proceedings


As we can see, the numbered order of the proceedings configures some procedural principles, each susceptible of separate assessment. All this occurs in the ordo Ad summariam notitiam, which uses the novelties of the decretal Quoniam contra falsam in structuring rhetorically the ordo iudiciorum. All this brings us to the opening question more consciously: Bartolus’s treaty on legal proceedings, that incorporates the procedural steps, according to Innocent III, and the treaty on witnesses where Bartolus provides details of witnesses’ examination are consistent with each other. So Bartolus’s authorship of the first of these treaties appears consequential. Through the sequential presentation of Bartolus’s treaties, Sansovino responds with originality to the scientific organization of the legal proceedings. In this regards I believe that the decretal Quoniam contra falsam becomes crucial not only in relation to the new system of the procedural treaties as formulated in the vernacular doctrine of jus commune, but also in relation to the inner disposition accompanying the judge in his adjudication. The decretal – as noted above – tackles this problem when it blames the hasty, superficial, unwise judge; and when it establishes a paradigm of the judge’s duty of care very close to the humanistic representation of the diligent judge (prudens activus). The decretal tends to 'objectify' the legal proceedings, but it does not expel the discretion employed by the judge as judge.



4. – Between Bartolus and Sansovino: ‘iudicare secundum conscientiam’


These developments of legal thought which occurred between the middle ages and early modernity are attested in a short passage within the Dialogue, where Sansovino chooses a vernacular translation not perfectly adherent to the lexicon of Bartolus’s text. Sansovino focuses his attention on the consciousness of the judge and so, when he presents the question of the witnesses’ examination, he translates Bartolus freely.


Bartolo, Tractatus de ordine iudiciorum[14]



Hic annotandum est piissimum principem (Dig. non in sola iudici potestate hec potuisse, sed ei quattuor consideranda iniunxit...

Sansovino, Dialogo della pratica della ragione[15]


Voi potete vedere la licenza che concede il pio prencipe (Dig. al giudice, rimettendo la credenza alla coscienza dell’esaminatore, onde noi dobbiamo considerare intorno i testimoni quattro cose...


Bartolus reverts to the Digest (Dig.[16] in giving the necessary qualities of the person called to witness and the requirements of the witnesses. So Bartolus points out the extension to which the judge can admit evidence (quanta fides habenda sit testibus). The judge is limited by some objective requirements obtained from the Justinian allegation. Sansovino, in his vernacular form, does not use the term ‘power’ (potestas) which is found in the Tractatus. He expresses the judge’s limit in examining witnesses with the new phrase ‘the conscience of the examiner’ («rimettendo la credenza alla coscienza dell’esaminatore»). In this way Sansovino highlights the provisions of the Hadrian rescript, recalled shortly after in the same fragment of the Digest (Dig. in fi.)[17] and he invokes the sententia animi quoted in this Hadrian rescript. In the vernacular translation the animus becomes the conscience, i.e. a judgment, a belief that the iudex reaches carefully by rightfully using all tools provided by the law. The essential meaning of the expression ‘the examiner's conscience’ is increased and not reduced, even though it is not an authentic expression of Sansovino. Over three centuries earlier, the canonist Alanus Anglicus, commentator of the dictum Gratiani where the same passage of the Digest (Dig. in fi.) was repeated[18], expressly states that the judge non iudicabit secundum allegata, set secundum conscientiam[19]. Alanus does not believe this legal principle is in opposition to the other iudicare secundum allegata et probata: each one corrects the other, in order to avoid that the strict application of either one could derail justice[20]. So it is true that Sansovino translates into vernacular the concept of the conscience of the judge on which the medieval doctrine had been working for a long time. Although the judge cannot use his personal knowledge and cannot abandon himself to personal extravagances, he is however obliged to weigh honestly and diligently the effective evidence of the parties’ pleas[21]. In essence, the medieval lesson on the conscience of the judge, largely developed by Bartolus, responds to the need to elude a previously fixed hierarchy of proofs, which tended to reconstruct a procedural truth far off or even opposed from the historical truth. Instead the hierarchy of proofs is made by the judge in each individual trial. Therefore, the judge must strive to adhere to the rule of evidence, since he is the main partner in the dialogue opened by the dialectical ability of the parties and their defenders in representing the truth. The notorious medieval definition of the trial as actus trium personarum lies in this dialectical relation between the judge and the parties. So the conscience of the judge developed from medieval doctrine and repurposed by Sansovino in the 16th century ends up with a flexible hierarchy of proofs: the hierarchy is not established a priori by the legal system but time to time and case by case by the judge, under the detailed guidance provided by the legal doctrine[22].

Well, it now becomes clear why Sansovino uses the ordo Haec sunt of the pseudo-Bartolus: because it was inspired by the decretal Quoniam contra falsam and therefore by the judge’s duty of care (sollicitudo ut iudex). There is a common thread in both the choice of the sources to translate and the terms used in the translation.

To conclude, Sansovino outlines the judge’s conscience not as a privatized or subjective notion, but as an objective professional consciousness. He still believes that the conscience of the judge is the only antidote to the false statement (falsa assertio) as captured by Dante, symbol of the medieval thought, in these words: «Della falsa oppinione nascevano li falsi giudicii, e de’ falsi giudicii nascevano le non giuste reverenze e vilipensioni: per che li buoni erano in villano despetto tenuti, e li malvagi onorati ed essaltati. La qual cosa era pessima confusione del mondo»; that is, «From the false opinion sprang false judgments, and from false judgments sprang unjust reverence and unjust contempt; wherefore the good were held in vile disdain, and the evil were honoured and exalted. This was the worst confusion in the world» (The Banquet IV I 7).




* International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds (4-7 July 2016). I would like to thank Andrew Cecchinato, Research Fellow in Legal History, University of St Andrews (UK), for reviewing my English text.

[1] See D.R. Klinck, Conscience, Equity and the Court of Chancery in Early Modern England, Burlingtonw 2010, p. 2. The A. studies the changing role of the conscientia in the framework of the English system of Equity, during the early modernity, moving from a consideration of the private and subjective relevance of conscience to its public law and objective significance. In my study I’m trying to demonstrate that the gradual streamlining of consciousness and its subsequent public relief – which are not opposed to the principle of ‘rule of law’, as interpreted by Klinck – outline the duties of the judge in conducting the trial, and bear a close relationship to the prudentia activa developed at the time of the medieval ius commune.

[2] The work is edited by L. Sartorello, Le due repubbliche. Bartolo e Machiavelli in un dialogo inedito di Francesco Sansovino, con Introduzione di Diego Quaglioni e Franco Todescan, Firenze 2010 (Politeia. Scienza e Pensiero, 46).

[3] See L. Fowler-Magerl, Ordines iudiciarii and Libelli de ordine iudiciorum (From the middle of the twelfth to the end of the fifteenth century), Turnhout 1994 (Typologie des Sources du Moyen Age occidental, 63), 10.

[4] Bartoli de Saxoferrato Tractatus de ordine judiciorum, G.A. Martin (ed.), Jenae 1826.

[5] The temporal relationship between the ordo ‘Ut nos minores’ and the ordo ‘Ad summariam notitiam’ is questioned by early 20th century literature. J.G.C. Joosting, Die Summa Ut nos Minores Nach der Leidener Handschrift herausgegeben, in Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte. Kanonistiche Abteilung 17, 1928, 158-159, unlike Reatz and Bethmann-Hollweg (see ibid., n. 4), but like to Wahrmund (see L. Wahrmund, Die Summa Minorum des Magister Arnulphus, in Quellen zur Geschichte des römisch-kanonischen Processes im Mittelalter, I.2, Innsbruck 1905, XVIII n. 4) thinks that the ordo ‘Ut nos minores’ is earlier than the ordo ‘Ad summariam notitiam’ and the source of the ordo ‘Ad summariam notitiam’. Furthermore, according to Joosting, the ordo ‘Ut nos minores’ is also earlier than the ‘Tractatus de ordine iudiciorum’ ascribed to Bartolus. But the recent literature takes the view that the ordo ‘Ad summariam notitiam’ is earlier than the ordo ‘Ut nos minores’: see L. Fowler-Magerl, Ordo iudiciorum vel ordo iudiciarius. Begriff und Literaturgattung, Frankfurt am Main 1984 (Ius Commune. Sonderhefte, 19), 144 (with bibl.); A. Pérez Martín, El ordo iudiciarius «Ad summariam notitiam» y sus derivados. Contribución al estudio de la literatura procesal castellana. I. Estudio, in Historia Instituciones Documentos, 8, 1981, 247. However, for my study, the question of the appearance of these ordines is irrelevant because it does not alter my observations about the numbered order of proceedings derived from the decretal Quoniam contra falsam (see infra, § 2).

[6] C.F. Reatz, Ueber die Summen ‘Ut nos minores’, ‘Ad summariam notitiam cursus consueti causarum’ und den Bartolus’schen Tractat: de ordine judicii, in Zeitschrift für Rechtsgeschichte, 3, 1864, 303-307.

[7] The editio princeps of the tractatus – as its editor Martin already knew – dates back to 1472 (see ibid., 13).

[8] See D. Quaglioni - F. Todescan, Introduzione to L. Sartorello, Le due repubbliche, cit., 11 n. 6.

[9] El ordo iudiciarius «Ad summariam notitiam» y sus derivados. Contribución al estudio de la literatura procesal castellana. II. Edición de textos, A. Pérez Martín (ed.), in Historia Instituciones Documentos, 9, 1982, 330.

[10] The relation between the ordo ‘Ad summariam notitiam’ and the decretal Quoniam contra falsam of Pope Innocent III is highlighted by L. Fowler-Magerl, Ordo iudiciorum, cit., 144: «Dieses Gliederungsprinzip geht zurück auf c. 38 des 4. Lateranconzils (X 2.19.11)».

[11] X 2.19.11: «...statuimus, ut tam in ordinario iudicio quam extraordinario iudex semper adhibeat aut publicam, si potest habere, personam, aut duos viros idoneos, qui fideliter universa iudicii acta conscribant, videlicet citationes et dilationes, recusationes et exceptiones, petitiones et responsiones, interrogationes et confessiones, testium depositiones et instrumentorum productiones, interlocutiones et appellationes, renunciationes, conclusiones, et cetera, quae occurrerint, competenti ordine conscribenda, loca designando, tempora et personas».

[12] See the repetitiones of Lanfrancus of Oriano (this work was written while Lanfrancus was for a second time in Padua, where he was teacher between 1459 and 1463. The provisions of the decretal Quoniam contra falsam propagated in England, although with some delays. In this view see R.H. Helmholz, Quoniam contra falsam (X 2.19.11) and the Court Records of the English Church, in Als die Welt in die Akten kam. Prozeβschriftgut im europäischen Mittelalter, hrsgg. von S. Lepsius, Th. Wetzstein, Frankfurt am Main 2008, 31-49.

[13] X 2.19.11: «Quoniam contra falsam assertionem iniqui iudicis innocens litigator quandoque non potest veram negationem probare, quum negantis factum per rerum naturam nulla sit directa probatio, ne falsitas veritati praeiudicet, aut iniquitas praevaleat aequitati, statuimus etc.».

[14] L. Sartorello, Le due repubbliche, cit., 189.

[15] Ibid.,  121.

[16] Dig. «Ideoque divus Hadrianus Vibio Varo legato provinciae Ciliciae rescripsit eum qui iudicat magis posse scire, quanta fides habenda sit testibus. verba epistulae haec sunt: ‘Tu magis scire potes, quanta fides habenda sit testibus, qui et cuius dignitatis et cuius existimationis sint, et qui simpliciter visi sint dicere, utrum unum eundemque meditatum sermonem attulerint an ad ea quae interrogaveras ex tempore verisimilia responderint».

[17] Dig. fi.: «Hoc ergo solum tibi rescribere possum summatim, non utique ad unam probationis speciem cognitionem statim alligari debere, sed ex sententia animi tui te aestimare oportere, quid aut credas aut parum probatum tibi opinaris».

[18] C.IV q.2 et 3 c.3 (§ 28): in ed. Friedberg this c.3 is a dictum where Gratianus presents the question about witness using and often paraphrasing some parts of Justinian texts.

[19] The edition of Alanus’ text is by A. Padoa-Schioppa, Sur la conscience du juge dans le ius commune europeén, in La conscience du juge dans la tradition juridique européenne, a cura di J.-M. Carbasse, L. Depambour-Tarride, Paris 1999, 104.

[20] In this sense and for further arguments see ibid., 104-105.

[21] Gratianus argued thusly on conflicting testimonies (C.IV q.2-3 c.3pr.): «Si uero ex his quidam eorum aliud dixerunt, licet inpari numero, credendum est, quod naturae negotii conuenit, et quod inimicitiae aut gratiae suspicione caret, confirmabitque iudex motum animi sui ex argumentis et testimoniis, que rei aptiora esse conpererit».

[22] For example, Sansovinus clarifies, in light of Bartolus’ Tractatus testimoniorium, the different needs depending on whether the factual or legal reasons are to be proved: «Ben sapete, perché sì come egli pruova il detto sanza esser addomandato della ragione, così è sofficiente la ragione sanza domandargli le circostanze di quella. Et questa prescrittion che voi dite, s’intende quella nella quale non si ricerca il titolo; et così perché egli mi veddé possedere, sanza troppo gran discorso, si comprende che io son padrone. Ma se si ricerca del titolo, tal testimon non basta se non rendessi però sì sofficiente ragion del titolo che fosse a bastanza, et questo diviene perché il titolo è un certo che, separato dal possedere» (ed. Sartorello, 124).