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The Rule of Law in Action in Democratic Athens$
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Edward M. Harris

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199899166

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199899166.001.0001

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Did the Athenian Courts Attempt to Achieve Consistency?

Did the Athenian Courts Attempt to Achieve Consistency?

The Use of Precedents in Forensic Oratory

Chapter:
(p.246) 7 Did the Athenian Courts Attempt to Achieve Consistency?
Source:
The Rule of Law in Action in Democratic Athens
Author(s):

Edward M. Harris

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199899166.003.0007

This chapter examines how the Athenians attempted to cope with law's “open texture,” that is, the potential ambiguity of statutes. Some scholars have claimed that the Athenian courts were not interested in consistency and tended to judge cases on an ad hoc basis. While it is true that litigants did not often cite previous cases in forensic oratory, this was because most trials concerned questions of fact. When questions concerning the interpretation of statute arose, it was not unusual for litigants to appeal to precedents or to the intent of the lawgiver to support their legal arguments. Litigants used precedents to show that their interpretation of the law was the traditional one, accepted by other citizens.

Keywords:   Athenian law, rule of law, open texture, statutes, precedents, litigants

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