Mkhitar Gosh – Datastanagirk (Book of Law)

The qualifications of judges, accusers and litigants

It is right for judges to be unbribable – for according to scripture a bribe blinds well-seeing eyes – so that he may be forthright in a court of law by not accepting a bribe for justice, and may indicate the correct sentence in his decision. “Not with partiality, as indeed the Lord said, but make just judgment, lest the minds of the weakest stumble and be wounded, and be used as an excuse [for criticism] among the foreigners; but in order that he may be forthright to say according to the Lord:” “Although it is I who judge, my judgment is just.

Let him not seek his own advantage, but adapt the mind of many to himself and make prompt judgment through a true decision. Although in everything he should recall mercy, yet he should be careful in judgment, to keep smooth and equitable the right for both sides, not as if humbling himself for mercy to the poor, according to the saying: “Do not pity the orphan and widow in court,” lest it be a cause for stumbling. [Rather] it was said: “to make judgment for the orphan and to give justice to the widow” in court. Although this must be observed by judges, yet let them teach each side not to be violent with each other, but that the powerful humble themselves with mercy to the weak.

Let him not hear only the statement of the accuser or of the litigant; and if he does hear [one side], let him merely learn [the charge] but not give sentence until both sides are fully investigated.

With two or three reliable witnesses let him give sentence, according to the Law. And what “reliability” may be, or why with two or three [witnesses], we shall explain after this chapter.

Now for him who has no witness, let sentence be passed on the oath of the other side. But we do not command oaths, since it was forbidden. But for those impious and unpermitted customs which they have we prescribe canons and penances. Now how the oath should be performed, and by whom, will be set out in its own chapter, not as legislation but as advice.

It is necessary and appropriate at the time of judgment for the judges to have two or three experienced men, of whatever ranks, to be accurate witnesses for them of the trial. For just as the claims of opponents are authenicated by witnesses, likewise the judgment of judges should be without suspicion through witnesses. This custom the Romans too observed formerly, to employ in perpetual examination 72 chosen men for trials and other matters, so that these might be accurately judged by them in advance. They chose 72 according to the languages of the nations, as if to have through them the wisdom of all nations. But now they appoint twelve judges, according to the number of the twelve apostles, not only to choose what is right and unfailingly preserve what is just, but also by the testimony of many to assure the accuracy of the court of justice. The Greeks, however, appoint three judges, likewise also the Georgians who learned from them, according to the number of the Trinity, or according to the number of witnesses. So too we must choose three competent persons; so that at the time of judgment the bishop, since he is judge, may associate with himself two or three not only as witnesses, but also through them to make examination and be informed at all times.

By night and by day it is necessary for judges to meditate, not only on the reading of technical texts or words of the codes, but also to hunt out the sayings of wise men according to each one’s nation. Although a specific judicial topic may not be encountered, yet taking the import by comparison of these sayings, let him be continually strengthened. It is very right for them to be perfect in every kind of virtue, especially in calmness and an unenvious way of life at all times, particularly at the moment of judgment, lest because of anger or envy the hearts of those judging be troubled to twist judgment. Let those judging be broad-minded and forgiving. And because matters are often unclear, let them not resolve it impatiently; but let them keep and store it up and review it at leisure, and resolve it through a later court, however often they have to take it up again.

Let them rebuke the disputation of rivals in court, lest there be a tumultuous disturbance in the court and a cause for the obstruction of justice. Let the plaintiffs also be instructed not to come to court for the sake of a quarrel, but in order to receive worthy sentence compassionately.

Let them allow each side to speak in order, with one being silent, so the truth being ascertained, sentence may thereby be carried out.

Let the judge also beware of his own assistant attorneys, for accusers and litigants have the habit of hiring them to speak in court. Let him not be bewitched in his ears at their arguments and fall outside just judgment. Only the heavenly court is conducted with an undeceived justice, in that it sees the inner depths of everyone. But let this earthly one be irreproachable without willful error; and let the willful stand under condemnation of the tribunal on high.

Let not judges become presumptuous and forget themselves, but let them know that: “One is the judge of all, God,” according to scripture. In all his deceits let him consider that the prophet Habakkuk called God “avenger of the unjust judge.”

The judge has prison for the punishment of the insubordinate. The commands of the Lord give warning in their expression, and the officer casts them into prison, whereby they must of necessity behave. But the Lord indeed advises accusers and litigants to settle their account on the road, lest something untoward occur.

It is not fitting for the disciples of Christ to speak falsely for either side with premeditation, because falsehood is from the Evil one. When falsehood is spoken it is spoken by its own; because its father Satan is also false. “The Lord destroys the one who speaks falsehood.” So do not be false to each other, and: “Let each one speak the truth with his companion,” because falsehood with deceit is sufficient for torment despite scruple. It is not consonant with the Lord’s law to set snares for each other through arguments in court, whereby they try to catch each other. “For he who sets a snare for his companion will fall into it himself.”

Let it not happen among the faithful that they behave with contentious injustice to each other in the public square. For if he wins, he despoils himself; and if he loses, he endures shame.

Let them not set up false witnesses for denial or in the desire for his fellow’s possessions, which the Law forbids to both parties.

Let it not at all be allowed to have for a fee some eloquent attorneys, whereby they bring the evil [side] to final victory.

Let them not by disputation insult each other and force each other to the disclosure of the court.

Let him not bribe the judges in order to plunder his colleague, being passionate for avarice, because: “That is the root of all evils.” Let him heed the apostle [who said] elsewhere: “Why are you not deprived and afflicted, but you deprive and afflict – and at that [your] brothers?” Let them be fearful of the command of the apostolic canons, which have written concerning the Lord that: “He was struck,” rather than “he struck;” “he was insulted,” rather than “he insulted.”

Let them not pointlessly fill the public square with oaths before the sentence of the judge, for the word [of scripture] forbids swearing. Let them know the saying of the Lord: “For every vain word men will give account on the day of judgment,” and elsewhere: “For all this God will bring you to judgment.” Let him reflect on this, that it is better in court to accept the loss of possessions joyfully and to keep oneself without fault, than to be avaricious and impatient, and enter the inflexible tribunal of the fearsome and heavenly judge. Let them be advised of this, that first they should look for help from the Lord through prayers, and then they should stand in the court of judgment, aiming for what is right and just. If He will give it and the just is not overcome, they will be grateful to him, because the Spirit of his Father gave them a mouth [to speak] and wisdom. But if according to providence the Lord gave the just one into the hands of the unjust, let them merely endure it with thanks; for they will acquire a better recompense and will leave the desire for vengeance to the Lord, according to scripture.

Extract from: The Lawcode (Datastanagirk) of Mxit’ar Goš,

Translated by Robert W. Thomson, Rodopi, 2000, pp.81-86