A Second Chance. Originally, verdicts of public and private law courts were not subject to appeal. It has been suggested that public law trials themselves were originally thought of as appeals from a magistrate’s decision, but this
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situation was never the case for, at least, private law cases. The only remedy for a defeated party in the Republic was a special law passed by an assembly, and of these there are only a few known examples. Emperors, beginning with the first one, began to exercise an appellate jurisdiction. This exercise was obviously valuable to victims of dishonest or incompetent judges. It was also valuable to the system in that it provided a central, authoritative source of legal interpretation. This was particularly true since many such cases were probably settled by high-powered jurists in the emperors’ courts. Finally, the judging of appeals was a source of patronage. Regular judges were significantly constrained by existing law. Emperors could change the law or make ad hoc exceptions whenever it seemed desirable. Thus, the emperor could make himself a figure of mercy and common sense.
John Anthony Crook, Law and Life of Rome (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967).
Fergus Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (31 B.C.-A.D. 337) (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977).