Rambam Mishneh Torah Sanhedrin-Chapter 22: Laws relating to Reaching verdicts

Chapter 22: Laws relating to Reaching verdicts

1.      Halacha 1: Refusing to adjudicate a case due to fear of the litigant.

  • It is permitted for a judge to abdicate himself from a court case due to fear of vengeance from one of the litigants so long as he has yet to conclude to which side the verdict is leaning towards. However, once he has heard the case and knows towards which side the verdict is leaning towards, then he may no longer abdicate himself from the court case and must give a verdict even if he fears vengeance from the other side, as the verse states that one shall not fear any man in judgment
  • An expert judge: The ability for a judge to abdicate from a court case due to fear of a litigant only applies if he is not the expert appointed judge of the community. If, however, he is the expert appointed judge of the community then he must involve himself in the case.

2.      Halacha 2: The obligation for a student to state his opinion.

  • The student knows of an argument to vindicate the poor: If a student who was present by the court case of his teacher is aware of an argument that he can make to vindicate the poor person and obligate his rich adversary, that he may not remain silent, and if he does then he transgresses the prohibition against fearing a person in judgment, and likewise transgresses the obligation to distance oneself from falsehood.
  • A student who is an ignoramus: A judge may not allow a student of his who is an ignoramus to be present before him during judgment, as this too can lead to falsehood in the case.

3.      Halacha 3: The prohibition for a student to withhold an argument until the end

  • Due to the obligation to distance oneself from falsehood, if a student sees an error in his teachers judgment, he may not wait until the judge gives the verdict in order so the final verdict is named after him, and rather he must express his argument right away prior to the verdict being given.

4.      Halacha 4: The mitzvah to reach compromise between the litigants

  • Prior [to giving the verdict and adjudicating the case], it is a mitzvah upon the judge to ask the litigants if they desire that he give a strict letter of the law ruling, or give a compromise ruling which will be negotiated between them.
  • Any court that continuously negotiates a compromise is considered praiseworthy, as their judgment brings peace between the parties.
  • After the verdict was already given: A compromise ruling can only be given prior to the judge giving a final verdict, however, the judge gives a final verdict and hands it over to the litigants, then he can no longer retract to a compromise solution, and in such a case we force the letter of the law onto the parties. However, so long as he has not given over the verdict he may still make a compromise between them, even if you’re ready heard both sides and knows to which direction the law is leaning toward.

5.      Halacha 5: Retracting from a compromise agreement

  • A litigant is permitted to retract from a compromise agreement that he made with the other party so long as an acquisition [i.e. Kniyan] was not made at the time of the agreement and hence it was never made legally binding.

6.      Halacha 6: The legality of a verdict by a court of two judges

  • Compromise versus letter of the law verdict: If two ordinary individuals rendered judgment between two parties, then the verdict given is not legally binding on the parties unless it was a verdict of compromise which was accepted between the two parties with an acquisition [i.e. Kinyan].

7.      Halacha 7: A prohibition on the judges to reveal their opinions on the verdict

  • After a verdict is given and the court case is closed, it remains forbidden for the judges to reveal their opinions or the opinions of their colleagues, such as to say, “I was the one who found you innocent while the other judges found you guilty.”

8.      Halacha 8: Handing a written verdict to the litigant

  • If one of the litigants asked the court to give him a written record of the case, then the judges are to write the names of the two parties, as well as the claims made, and as to which side was found liable and which side was found not liable. The records may not contain an account of which judges found the party guilty or innocent, and is to simply state that the court has found this person liable and this person not liable.

9.      Halacha 9: The procedure of court cases in Jerusalem courts

  • The accustomed court procedure in the Jerusalem courts was as follows: the two litigants would enter the court and make their statements and claims. Witnesses were then brought in for their witness statements. The judges would then remove everyone from their chambers and debate the matter amongst themselves until they reach a decision. Once a verdict has been reached they would then call in the litigants and the greatest of the judges would read to them the verdict saying which party was found liable and which party was found not liable.
  • The merits of this method of procedure is that the parties never know which judge held of his innocence and which held of his liability.

10.  Halacha 10: A prohibition for a judge to join a case with an evil judge

  • If a judge has knowledge that one of his colleagues is a transgressor or a wicked person that is forbidden for him to join him in giving a judgment due to the obligation to distance oneself from falsehood.
  • The custom in Jerusalem: In Jerusalem, the custom amongst those men of stature was not to participate in any judgment if they did not know the other judges. Likewise, they would not sign any legal documents unless they knew who was signing with them, and they would not join a meal unless they knew who else would be participating.

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