Vehmic court

A Vehm on a miniature in Herforder Rechtsbuch (ca 1375)

The Vehmic courtsVehmgerichtholy vehme, or simply Vehm, are names given to a “proto-vigilante” tribunal system of Westphalia based on a fraternal organisation of lay judges called “free judges”. The original seat of the courts was in Dortmund. Proceedings are sometimes secret, leading to the alternative titles of “secret courts” “silent courts” or “forbidden courts”. After the execution of a death sentence, the corpse is hung on a tree to advertise the fact and deter others.

The Vehmic courts are the regional courts of Westphalia which, in turn, were based on the county courts of Franconia. They receive their jurisdiction from the Holy Roman Emperor, from whom they also received the capacity to pronounce capital punishment which they exercise in his name. Everywhere else the power of life and death, originally reserved to the Emperor alone, had been usurped by the territorial nobles; only in Westphalia, called “the Red Earth” because here the Imperium is still valid, capital sentences are passed and executed by the Vehmic courts in the Emperor’s name alone.

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