[with apologies to the real Legal Systems Very Different From Ours. See also the List Of Fictional Drugs Banned By The FDA]
The Clamzorians are animists. They believe every rock and tree and river has its own spirit. And those spirits are legal people. This on its own is not unusual – even New Zealand gives rivers legal personhood. But in Clamzoria, if a flood destroys your home, you sue the river.
If you win, then the river is in debt to you. The government can assign a guardian to the river to force it to pay off its debts, and that guardian gets temporary custody of all the river’s property. He or she can collect a toll from boats, sell water to reservoirs, and charge rent to hydroelectric dams. Once the river has paid off its debt, the guardian is discharged, and the river becomes free to use once again.
Clamzorian precedent governs when you may or may not sue objects. If you swim in the freezing river in the dead of winter, and catch cold, that’s on you. But if a hurricane destroys your property, you can absolutely sue the wind for damages, and collect from windmills. Suits against earthquakes, volcanoes, and the like are dead common. Suits against diseases happen occasionally. Sometimes someone will sue something even more abstract – a custom, an emotion, a concept.
Legend tells of a lawyer who once sued Death itself for wrongful death, a class action suit on behalf of everyone who ever lived. The judge found in favor of the plaintiff, but the appointed custodian despaired at ever collecting the judgment – the few morticians and undertakers in the realm couldn’t afford even a fraction of the damages. In a stroke of genius, he went after the military, and charged them for the right to kill enemy soldiers. The military grumbled, but eventually gave in: fair is fair.
Fixed fines are inherently unfair to the poor. If you fine people $50 for running a red light, you’ve charged someone who makes $10,000 0.5% of their income, but someone who makes $100,000 gets off with only 0.05% of their income.
But prison sentences are inherently unfair to the rich. After all, if you already live in a crowded slum much like a prison cell, and your life is prison-level boring and oppressive already, then going to prison barely costs you anything. But if you live in a mansion and spend all day indulging in the finest luxuries on offer, going to prison is a massive decrease in your quality of life.
The people of Pohjankaupunki thought long and hard about this problem, and came up with a solution: crimes will be punished by neither fines nor prison. They will be punished by government mandated prescription of rimonabant, a prodepressant medication which directly saps your ability to feel happiness. Running a red light may get you 5 mg rimonabant for a month. Murder may get you 80 mg rimonabant twice a day for ten years.
There is no capital punishment in Pohjankaupunki, but if a criminal decides to commit suicide rather than continue to take their medication, they are considered to have voluntarily upgraded to the death penalty, and their debt to the state has been repaid.
Sloviria is an enlightened country. They do not blame criminals for their actions. They realize it is Society’s fault for making criminals that way. So when someone commits a crime, they punish Society.
Sloviria is very technologically advanced, with plenty of social networking sites and GPS tracking of cell phones and all the other systems that create a nice objective social graph. When someone commits a crime, the government lets them go free, and punishes everyone else, in proportion to how close they were to the offender on the social graph. If the punishment for a certain crime is a $1000 fine, perhaps each of their parents and their partner pays $200, their boss and best friend pay $100, some of their teachers a few tenners each, and more distant friends and relations a few dollars or less. If a friend of a friend who you met at a dinner party once commits murder, you may be out a couple of cents.
This isn’t to say perpetrators get off scot-free; Sloviria isn’t that enlightened. The punishment for perpetrators is that nobody wants to interact with them, for fear that they might perpetrate again. Once a person is a known criminal – or a suspected criminal, or just the sort of person who seems like they might become a criminal – their friends, families, and business relations shun them, trying to minimize their potential loss. This threat alone is enough to discourage crime and every form of crime-adjacent misbehavior.
The Slovirian Radical Party is even more enlightened than Sloviria as a whole, and opposes social punishment. They believe that such punishment prevents rehabilitation, since criminals and at-risk youth find it impossible to make the connections they need to succeed, and are forced to hang out with other people as criminal as themselves. They propose a complete inversion of Sloviria’s justice system; when anyone commits a crime, the people closest to them are rewarded. They envision a future where, once somebody shows any sign of being at risk for antisocial behavior, they are love-bombed by dozens of people hoping to get rich off their acquaintance, people who want to employ them, adopt them, date them, or just serve as mentors and parental figures. But wouldn’t all these people encourage the potential criminal to offend? The Radicals debate this among themselves, with one solution being that this could just be a perfectly normal crime punished by jail time.
Nova-Nishistan’s legal system is based on blackmail. It’s not just blackmail. There are courts and jails and so on. But few people use them. If you have evidence that someone committed a crime, you are expected to threaten to report them unless they give you money.
The system has many advantages. The person most likely to have evidence of a crime is the victim. The victim can choose how much money they want as damages, and have a good chance of receiving it. Fines are automatically calibrated to the wealth of the victim, so poor people are not stuck with debts that are impossible to pay. If a crime is victimless, or the victim chooses not to prosecute, any other witnesses are incentivized to take up the cause of punishing the wrongdoer of their own initiative. Few crimes make it to the courts or prisons, so everyone is assured a speedy trial and an jail cell free of overcrowding.
In order to maintain their system, the Nova-Nishistanis need many laws related to blackmail itself. One of their most serious crimes is to blackmail someone, receive the requested ransom, but report them anyway; anyone convicted of this will be in for a lengthy prison sentence. Indefinite blackmail – “pay me $100 now, but I might ask for more later” – is forbidden. So is non-monetary blackmail; too easy to abuse. There are a host of similar regulations.
One regulation they don’t need is laws about retaliating against blackmailers. You might expect this to be a problem – blackmailing the mob sounds pretty scary. But there are lots of individuals, companies, and (let’s face it) rival gangs happy to provide dead-man’s-switch-as-a-service. Tell them your secret (which they promise not to disclose without your consent), and if anything happens to you, they prosecute it. Even better, if anything happens to you, they’re almost guaranteed to investigate your death, since their special evidence gives them a leg up in what could be a very lucrative blackmail case.
Of course, this only works on people who are rational enough to respond to incentives. If someone is a complete unpredictable psycho, you probably don’t want to try blackmailing them, even with a dead-man’s-switch as insurance. But these are probably the people who should be in jail anyway!
The people of Bogolia thought it was unfair that rich people could hire better lawyers than poor people. But they didn’t want to take the authoritarian step of banning rich people from buying good lawyers, if they thought skilled representation was important. Instead, they just mandated that in any legal case, both sides had to have equally-priced counsel. A rich person could hire as expensive a defense attorney as they wanted, as long as they donated an equal sum to the plaintiff to hire star attorneys of their own. You could sue someone with as highly-priced an attorney as you wanted, but you needed to give them the same amount to spend on their defense.
(this rule applied to the state too, and so implied the right to a public defender worth however much the state was paying to prosecute you, even if you were poor and couldn’t otherwise afford one)
Some trolls tried launching hundreds of frivolous lawsuits against companies they didn’t like, assuming that the company would have to pay both sides of the lawsuit and eventually go broke. They were punished through the normal anti-frivolous-lawsuit rules, and it turned out that companies that did not go broke having to pay one side of a lawsuit don’t go broke having to pay both sides either.
But there were some weirder unintended consequences. How good a lawyer to get became a highly strategic decision for rich clients facing poorer ones. If you thought you were in the right, you’d get a good lawyer, since two equally good lawyers facing off will likely produce truth. If you thought you were in the wrong, you’d try to get a crappy lawyer, since then your opponent would also have a crappy lawyer, and two crappy lawyers facing off will likely produce random results. Not paying for a good lawyer started to be seen as an admission that one’s case was weak.
But also, lawyer salaries started to get wacky. If a random criminal hurt a rich person somehow, and the rich person hired a good lawyer, the random criminal might receive tens of thousands of dollars to spend on legal advice. But random criminals generally are not savvy at evaluating lawyer skill, so thousands of predatory lawyers sprang up, willing to cater to these people by looking impressive and accepting very high salaries. For the savviest of political operators, an equal and opposite caste of underpriced lawyers sprang up, who would accept very low pay in exchange for vague social credit to be doled out later. More and more political scandals started to center on prestigious lawyers defending politicians for free in exchange for favors, and so depriving the opposing party of their right to equally-matched counsel.
Finally the authorities handed down a change to the system: the plaintiff and defendant would agree on two lawyers to conduct the trial. Then the judge would flip a coin, and one of the two would be assigned at random to each party.
Sanzorre accidentally became an anarcho-capitalist state under the dominion of malpractice insurance companies.
They started off by insuring doctors. Doctors know a bad malpractice case could ruin them. And although being a good doctor helps, it’s not 100%. Even the best doctor can get unlucky, or have somebody with a grudge fabricate a case against them. For that matter, even very bad doctors can get lucky and never have to deal with a case at all. So doctors have malpractice insurance, and if they seem to be practicing medicine badly their insurance company will raise their premiums.
This worked well enough that other industries started adopting it too. If a factory’s pollutant byproducts got discovered to cause cancer ten years later, their industrial malpractice insurance would pay for it. If someone slipped and fell and broke their back on a restaurant floor, their restaurant malpractice insurance would pay for it. Of course, these insurance companies worked closely with factories to monitor how many they were polluting, and gave discounts to restaurants which followed best practices on floor cleaning.
Finally, they branched out to serving ordinary people. If you accidentally hit someone’s dog with your car and got sued for damages, better to have a personal malpractice insurance pay them than get hit for tens of thousands of dollars yourself. Having malpractice insurance became to Sanzorrians what having health insurance is to Americans – a necessity if you don’t want to court disaster.
The plaintiffs in all these cases were usually being covered by lawyers who took contigency fees. But as malpractice insurance companies became better at their jobs, the contingency fees began to dry up. Finally, lobbyists from the insurance companies got contingency fees banned entirely. This presented a dilemma for ordinary people with grievances against bad actors. Thus the rise of the grievance insurance.
If you suffered harm from a doctor’s medical error, and had grievance insurance, the insurance company would pay the cost of the malpractice suit. If you were poisoned by industrial runoff, the insurance company would pay the cost of suing the factory. Grievance insurance soon became as essential as malpractice insurance. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to stand up for your rights.
Like malpractice insurance, grievance insurance was only available cheaply to people who agreed to avoid risks. If you wanted to be able to sue for malpractice, you had to avoid going to quacks. If you wanted to be able to sue factories for pollution, you couldn’t live right next to a coal plant. Gradually, grievance insurances placed more and more restrictions on people’s behavior, and people generally complied.
As malpractice insurances incentivized potential defendants to avoid actions that could harm others, and grievance insurances incentivized individuals to avoid risk, the number of lawsuits gradually got fewer and fewer. Those that happened were generally settled between malpractice insurers and grievance insurers, without ever having to go to court, and sometimes with both companies changing their policy to avoid repeats in the future. Soon, even this formality was eliminated – each malpractice insurance company paid a negotiated amount to each grievance insurance company each year, and the grievance insurance company paid complainants from its own bank account as per its own policies whenever they complained.
It wasn’t quite full anarcho-capitalism. The state still intervened in a few very serious crimes, like murder. But the insurance companies had replaced the civil courts and the regulatory apparatus, and controlled every aspect of doing business.
Modern philosophy says that formal systems are bunk. The dream of reducing the complexity of reality to some mere set of rules is a childish desire reminiscent of the fascists and high modernists of the early 20th century. Enlightened thinkers realize that we need a Kegan 5 type fluid ability to transcend systematicity. So the people of Mirakoth don’t have laws. They’re just supposed to not do bad stuff.
If someone in Mirakoth thinks someone else did something bad, they can bring it before a council of seven judges. If a majority of the judges think it was bad, they can assign whatever seems to them like fair punishment. If the loser appeals, it goes to a larger council of forty-nine judges. If they think it was bad, it was bad. These judges are under no obligation to follow precedent or any particular philosophy. They’re just supposed to be in favor of good stuff and against bad stuff.
In order to prevent people from seeking out judges who agree with them, each case is assigned seven judges at random. All cases are tried by videoconference, to make sure the judge pool is unlimited by geographical mobility. If the judges think a case is frivolous, they can choose to punish the person who brought the case.
Doesn’t this create such paralyzing uncertainty that nobody knows if they can do anything at all? Not really. Controversial cases are more likely to go to the full 49 judge panel. If an opinion is only held by 20% of judges in the country, then there’s only about a 1 in a million chance that the panel will rule in favor. Even if the opinion is held by 40%, it’s still only an 8% chance of winning. So just don’t do things that more than 40% of people think are bad, and you’ll be fine!