Access to justice. Urban legal procedures and the usage of the pro bono procedure in civil adjudication in the Low Countries, 16th to 18th century

Griet Vermeesch

Research Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST)

Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (FWO), 2011-2015

Historians generally acknowledge that broad layers of early modern society made abundant use of civil adjudication to arrange their social and economic relations and interests. If litigation was indeed as central to early modern community life as recent research has established, the question of to what extent urban households that belonged to the socially lower groups participated in litigation has particular relevance not only for legal history, but also for social, economic, political and cultural history. If they did take part, they must often have made use of the pro bono procedure, which allowed them to wage a lawsuit free of charge. The central question of this project is to what extent these urban households had access to urban juridical courts in the early modern Low Countries. It will be determined which urban households made use of the pro bono procedure at local juridical courts, and why they used them, throughout the early modern period. This research will be carried out for towns in the Low Countries, which historians allege offered particularly good public services. This research will assess the extent to which householders among the urban population really could access the court system by assessing the relative social inclusiveness of the urban litigation community. In doing so, it will substantially improve our understanding of social relations in the early modern urban context.