When was the first time in recorded history where the juridical system provided for protecting the rights of the general population, including the lower classes, so that a person of lower class could have a realistic chance to win a trial / legal battle, even against an opponent of higher social status.

To make this question answerable, I'll include a list of constraints.

  • it doesn't have to be a perfectly equal or perfectly fair chance. Even today, even in the most egalitarian countries, someone who can afford a better lawyer or knows a lot of important people has at least somewhat increased chances. The point is having any realistic chance at all.

  • if it was only de jure, but never practiced, it doesn't count. For it to count, there have to be at least some recorded cases of normal trials where it happened.

  • Special occasions (the king on his birthday or on a national holiday providing justice for a poor beggar, or otherwise a highly notorious and very individual case) don't count if those people couldn't have had any chance at all at a regular trial.

  • A formerly oppressed group gaining power in a revolution and therefore securing the rights doesn't count, unless they provide fair trial for the newly subjugated class. (For the sake of this question, the winners of the revolution no longer count as the lower class)

Note: if the underlying societies would prove to be so different that the very terms of "trial" , "law", or "lower class" would have vastly different meanings to decide a "winner", one could list other, possibly later cases from a different continent / completely different civilization.

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    Its seen as early as in Roman culture, those who were Roman citizens were given a fair trial, and could not be locked up without reasonable evidence and only Romans could be used as witnesses when a Roman was on trial. – trippt02 Mar 30 '16 at 16:08
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    Are you not restricting this to trials against the upper class? If not, then I don't think there's a "first time" to speak of. Why wouldn't members of the lower class have a reasonable chance of having a "fair trial" against other members of the lower class? I think that is generally true ever since the concept of trial and justice developed. – Semaphore Mar 30 '16 at 16:10
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    Depending on exactly what you mean by "realistic chance", I think a good argument can be made that it has not happened yet. – jamesqf Mar 30 '16 at 17:30
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    Well, Cicero prosecuted Verres, the Roman governor, on behalf of the people of Sicily - ie provincials - and won! Pretty impressive. – TheHonRose Mar 30 '16 at 21:20
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    @TheHonRose that's the issue with this question; a single lawsuit won by the lower-class people does not amount to "a fair chance" (how many governors were guilt of the same things that Verres, but were impregnable? Was Verres just the exception -maybe, even, due to political influences-) Unless we have a list of all the lawsuits brought to bear, their merits (was the claimant right?) and the judements it is unanswerable. Also there is the issue of the meaning of "fair"; for ages killing a woman or a slave brought a less severe punishment that killing a man, and that was "fair". – SJuan76 Mar 30 '16 at 22:53

Either never or in hunter gatherer days, depending on the meaning of your question.

The oldest recorded civilization is the Sumerians, which historians apparently claim practiced "fair trials".


Preserved clay tablets reveal that the Sumerians maintained courts of justice where people could expect a fair trial. One table recorded the oldest murder trial in history.Most of the food production and distribution was controlled through the temple. A noble class arose based on land ownership, control of trade, and manufacturing. Most trade and manufacturing was outside the temple’s control.

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