Law and justice
Lords have judicial power in cases arising in their domains. While landed knights are sometimes Lords in all but name, only the Lords are given the right to administer the high justice for capital penalty.
It is a lord's duty to keep the peace, hear petitions, and mete out justice and punishments, all in the name of his lord, and ultimately, in the name of the king. The lord or his officers would hold local courts, listen to petitions and accusations and rule based on the evidence and law. The lords may entrust tasks to their sworn lords, landed knights, and bailiffs, to help them keep the peace, perform local judgements and oversee executions. If the lord is unable to give sentencing, it is up to the lord of the great house holding dominion in that area and eventually the king to give sentencing, as the final authority.
While Aegon's Conquest united most of Westeros under one king, Aegon opted to respect each region's local laws and left them in place. Aegon also created the position of Master of Laws on the Small Council. It wasn't until the reign of Jaehaerys I Targaryen that the Seven Kingdoms were brought under one unified code of law. Dorne remained independent, and when they finally joined the Seven Kingdoms one of their conditions was that "Dornish law would always rule in Dorne."
Laws are enforced to various degrees depending on the disposition of the local lord or the status of the accused. Since most wrongs can be atoned for by the payment of a fine, wealthy people can often get away with things that commoners can not. This is especially true if the accused is of high status and commands influence and power. In some cases overlooking an offense is in the best interest of the local lord.
Additionally, highborn such as lords and nobles are afforded more rights by law: they cannot be denied trials and are allowed more leniency in their conduct.
An accused highborn may demand trial by combat or the less used trial of seven and let the gods give judgement. "Taking the black", to join the Night's Watch, is an alternative to criminal punishment. By taking the black, one’s crimes are forgiven and he is exiled to the wall severing all previous ties. Women are not allowed to take the black. Only a knight of the Kingsguard can champion a queen in a trial by battle if she has been accused of treason.
The legal majority for men and women is 16. Trials, at least among the nobility, often begin with a prayer from a septon beseeching the Father Above to guide them towards justice. The accused and witness are sworn to honesty before he gives testimony at a trial. Of old, the High Septons might appoint seven judges to try a case, and if a woman was accused, three of them might be women, representing maidens, mothers, and crones.
The punishment for treason and oathbreaking is death. Poachers may lose a hand. It is customary for thieves to lose a finger, but harsher punishments may be doled out depending on the circumstances. Various mutilations for assault, castration for rape, and floggings for minor offences are usual.
Executions are usually carried out by hanging or beheading. For harsher crimes the "crow cage" is used, in which the victim is imprisoned without food or water until death. Its name comes from the crows who often end up feasting on the criminal's flesh.
Flogging is the common punishment for members of the lower social classes, its severity determined by both the number of strokes.
- The Sworn Sword.
- So Spake Martin: Knights and Lords (March 02, 2002)
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 22, Arya IV.
- The Hedge Knight.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaerys I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 2, The Captain Of Guards.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 33, Eddard VIII.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 38, Tyrion V.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 47, Eddard XIII.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 3, Daenerys I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 43, Cersei X.
- So Spake Martin: Age of Majority (November 04, 1999)
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 66, Tyrion IX.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 36, Davos IV.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 1, Bran I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 14, Brienne III.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 13, Tyrion II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 14, Catelyn II.