The Forgotten Tribunal

David Mevius (1609-1670). Mevius was the editor of collections of case law. Photo: Wikipedia. Archiv Wismar

The official inauguration of the Royal-Swedish Tribunal in Wismar on 17 May 1653 was a festive occasion. The Wismar Tribunal (Wismarer Tribunal) was the highest court of appeal of the Swedish territories on German soil of the Holy Roman Empire. As an outcome of the thirty years war (1618-1648) and as a result of the Peace Treaty of Westphalia (1648). The Swedish Crown acquired West Pommern (VorPommern)with connected territories, (including the cities Stettin, Stralsund and Greifswald), re-secularized bishopries of Bremen-Verden and Hamburg and the city of Wismar with districts Poel and Neukloster.

The Swedish Crown wanted to have a Supreme Court to unify the acquired territories and to strengthen Swedish identity. It is relevant to notice that 17th centuries monarchs had a clear concept of the importance of an independent judiciary, not only for the sake of legal security, legal unity and protection of individuals, but also as (political) unifying tools. Until the acquisition in 1648, the Supreme Courts of the Holy Roman Empire (the Reichskammergericht and the Reichshofrat) were the highest courts of appeal for the German territories.  The ambitions of the Swedish Crown became clear by the festivities on May 17th, 1653. A procession from the market square to the Fürstenhof (the seat of the Tribunal) with numerous representatives of the Swedish and German nobility and activities such as dance, music and other performances introduced the official beginning of the Tribunal.

The court was evacuated twice (1675-1680 and 1716-1720), faced financial difficulties and moved to Stralsund and Greifswald (1802-1803). The court was dissolved at the end of Swedish rule in 1803. The contribution to the European court system, however, is obvious. Talented and committed judges presided the court and the years until 1700 presented one the most sophisticated European supreme courts. In particular the library should be mentioned in this respect. It was not common that courts had their own library. Judges, legal scholars and advocates had their own library, but the Wismar Tribunal acquired the library from David Mevius (1609-1670). Mevius was from German origin, but he had joint the diplomatic Swedish service after 1648. In 1653 he became vice-president of the Wismar Tribunal until his death in 1670. His fame is not only based on his European wide acknowledged (legal) library, but also on the procedural rules he drafted (Tribunalsordnung 1657) and in particular on his collection of case law (decisiones). The European Court system was to a large extent based on case law from the various ‘European”supreme courts. This is a forgotten European history and cultural legacy. The case law collection of Mevius was available all over Europe and used by legal practitioners, scholars and students in law. (source: Dr. N. Jörn, ‘Die Stadt Wismar und “ihr” Tribunal’ in Wismarer Beiträge, Heft 15 (Wismar 2003).