The Law Court in Cetinje—The Prince as patriarch—A typical lawsuit—Pleasant hours with murderers—Our hostel—A Babel of tongues—Our sojourn draws to a close—The farewell cup of coffee and apostrophe.
The Law Court in Cetinje is distinctly quaint. All civil cases are conducted in public, and the method of procedure is simplicity itself. Firstly there are no lawyers and no costs, the rival parties conducting their case in person—that is to say, they are present, and are examined and cross-examined by the judge and his six assistants. All the preliminaries have been committed to writing and are read out by the clerk of the court, the only other official present. In a small inclosure sit the plaintiff and defendant and their witnesses; behind a railing, stand and sit the audience of admiring friends and relations.
[Footnote 9: This is all altered now since the end of 1902, when a new code and system was introduced, more up to date.]
The room is long and low. At the further end on a raised dais sits the judge, behind whom is a lifesize reproduction of the Prince’s photograph. At a horseshoe-shaped table sit the other judges, three on each side, and in the middle is another table holding the Bible, crucifix, and two candles. The candles are lit when a witness takes the oath.
In the intervening space is a large and comfortable easy-chair, or perhaps it would be more correct and dignified to call it a throne. It is occupied by Prince Nicolas whenever he comes in, as he often does, for an hour or so, for he takes a keen interest in the law cases of his subjects. When he is present the proceedings are in no way altered, but the Prince himself puts now and then a pertinent question to the witnesses. Furthermore, it is here that the Prince every Saturday, when he is in residence in Cetinje, holds public audience and receives petitions and complaints from his lowliest subjects. Every petition must be committed to writing, and in the appointed order each man or woman steps forward while the document is read aloud by the clerk. The Prince puts a question or two to the petitioner and then gives his answer to the request, which is duly noted, and the next person called.
It is all so simple and quick that it is hard to realise the importance of this commendable institution. In the olden days the Prince dispensed justice and favours, seated under the shade of an enormous tree, which has now, however, been destroyed. But in the height of summer, a shady spot in the open air is still found.