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17th century Europe saw many trials related to Catholic-Protestant disagreements. Was the legal principle of conflict of interest operative at the time, so that for example the same person could not be the source of a denunciation and at the same time a legal expert called upon for an opinion?

I would be particularly interested in the trials of the inquisition in Italy.

Apart from the issue to what extent laws concerning "ambidexterity" (mentioned in the answer) were actually followed, I am also interested in what type of (canon) law existed at the time. The scenario I am thinking of is slightly different from ambidexterity. Suppose person X initiated a denunciation (or in more favorable modern terminology "whistle-blowing") concerning person Y. Can person X himself be appointed to sit as a judge or offer expert opinion on the ensuing case involving Y stemming from X's whistle?

Note. An instance of such conflict of interests dates from 1632-1633. Melchoir Inchofer was chosen as one of a panel of three theologians appointed to assess Galileo's work, the others being Agostino Oreggi and Zaccaria Pasqualigo. In addition to this overt task, there is in the papers of the Congregation of the Index an anonymous denunciation, referred to as EE291 in the literature. The EE291 dates from 1632 and is in Inchofer's hand. One of the key accusations is Galileo's alleged non-conformity to Canon 2 of Session 13 of the Council of Trent. Additional details can be found in this 2018 publication in Foundations of Science.

  • !!! You're talking canon law, not secular law - that is a critical distinction!! – Mark C. Wallace Aug 25 '16 at 19:20
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    @MarkC.Wallace, thanks for helping me formulate the question properly. – Mikhail Katz Aug 25 '16 at 19:20
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Yes. According to this paper the concept of "ambidexterity" has been a part of Canon law since medieval times.

brief quote:

Sayles notes that there was "a monotonous outcry against the practice whereby the pleader insinuated himself into the confidence of one party and afterwards transferred his services to the other." Christian stated that serjeants "were often accused of being 'ambidexters' and taking fees from both sides."" The Mirror ofJustices, a late thirteenth century attack on judges and the legal system, said that a lawyer should be "suspended if he is attainted of receiving a fee from both sides in one cause.""

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia,

The judges were to be at least forty years old, of unimpeachable reputation, distinguished for virtue and wisdom, masters of theology, or doctors or licentiates of canon law, and they must follow the usual ecclesiastical rules and regulations. On 17 September, 1480, Their Catholic Majesties appointed, at first for Seville, the two Dominicans Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martin as inquisitors, with two of the secular clergy assistants. Catholic Encyclopedia

(note: I've cherrypicked the section on the inquisition in Spain; you'll need to do additional research to verify that the inquisition in Italy is chartered and organized the same way. The reason I've picked this section is that it explicitly states that the qualifications for the members include "licentiates of canon law" - meaning that they would be familiar with the sections on ambidexterity. If you can find similar qualifications for the Inquisition in Italy, you'll be very close to your answer.)

  • The principle may have existed but it never existed in practice. The theory of "evidence" in juris prudence (objective law) didn't even exist prior to the 19th Century. Subpoenas, grand juries, procedural violations...these are all 20th Century concepts. Law at best until then was based upon the idea of precedent...and that theory was only practiced in Great Britain at that time. Indeed using Napoleonic Law a Judge was expected to have a conflict of interest...namely that the interest of the State remained paramount even to the Law itself. That's still true today in Europe save Britain actualy – Doctor Zhivago Aug 26 '16 at 1:35
  • @user14394, thanks for your comment. Apart from the issue to what extent laws concerning "ambidexterity" were actually followed, I am also interested in what type of (canon) law existed at the time. The scenario I am thinking of is slightly different from ambidexterity. Suppose person X initiated a denunciation (or in more favorable modern terminology "whistle-blowing") concerning person Y. Can person X himself be appointed to sit as a judge or offer expert opinion on the ensuing case involving Y stemming from X's whistle? – Mikhail Katz Aug 26 '16 at 8:05

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