Court Roll 1685


The judiciary in the Swedish realm was based on local district sessions (kihlakunnankäräjät/häradsting). Usually one, sometimes more parishes formed the district, in which joint sessions were held by law four times, but in practice often only twice a year. Several local session districts together formed a judicial district, which was the operating area of one district judge (kihlakunnantuomari/häradshöfding). The district judge circulated each in each session district in his jurisdiction in turn, holding court sessions. In many cases, the task of district judge was assigned to nobles who did not perform the duties of judge themselves. Instead, a law reader (lainlukija/lagläsare) was hired and paid well to manage the court sessions in the district. Some law readers were to some extent familiar with jurisprudence, but this was by no means always the case. Hiring a law reader was banned in 1680 and it was ruled that the judge was to sit in his district and perform the task himself. In addition to the judge, court decisions were made by twelve lay jurors, who were mostly the wealthiest parishioners or otherwise trusted peasant farmers.

One of the most important reforms of the judiciary in the Kingdom of Sweden in the seventeenth century was the establishment of courts of appeal as an instance between the district sessions and the king. Before that, it was only possible to appeal against the district session's decision to the king. The first court of appeal was established in Stockholm, where the Svea Court of Appeal began operating in 1614, and on Finnish territory, the Turku Court of Appeal was established in 1623. Other appeal courts established in the seventeenth century were the Tartu Court of Appeal (1629) and the Gota Court of Appeal (1634). The establishment of courts of appeal also meant that legal education began to develop. The tasks of the courts of appeal included monitoring district court activities and decisions. A transcript (renovoitu) of the district court protocols was sent to the court of appeal for inspection and if errors were found in the handling of case or the judgements given, the case was returned to the district court for retrial. These transcripts of the district court protocols were bound into books and have survived in the appeal court archives as continuous series. They are an important source for historical research, not only in terms of legal history, but also because they provide a lot of information about people's everyday life in the early modern period. Part of the district court protocols for Finnish territory were destroyed with the appeal court archives in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827.

The district court protocols were drawn up in a specific order. Firstly, the place where the sessions were held is described, which parish session was in question and whether it was being held in winter, spring, summer or autumn. After that, who was present at the session was reported. The crown bailiff officiated as general public prosecutor in cases concerning the interests of the crown. Next, the sworn jurors and often their home villages were listed. After the session was opened, usually it heard various proclamations from the king or various high–ranking officials such as governors–general, governors and administrators. Only then did the session turn to handling matters requiring a legal solution. The sessions did not only deal with criminal cases; the majority of the issues addressed were administrative, such as matters related to road and bridge maintenance, and civil cases. The most common of these were border and inheritance disputes and debt issues.