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I remember 3 cases of court scenes in Harry Potter, one in Dumbledore's memory about the questioning of Karkaroff and sentencing of Barty Crouch Jr. after WWI (Wizarding War I), one in OotP for Harry's disciplinary hearing, and one in the last book about questioning of Mrs. Cattermole. In all these cases the defendant is left to fend for him/herself. In Harry's case, Dumbledore has to come and defend him and he's not a lawyer either.

Do all the court cases shown in the books depict special circumstances, or is that how the wizard legal system works, where the Ministry directly accuses a person and he has to personally defend himself? Do lawyers exist in the Potterverse? Are they ever mentioned? (I am interested in a book answer, but movies or anything else are fine too)

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  • @CHEESE it says More acted as a lawyer in the muggle society. – user68762 Dec 7 '16 at 14:31
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    @R.Skeeter That's why it's not an answer – CHEESE Dec 7 '16 at 15:31
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    I always had the feeling that getting a process in a court, or the chance to defend yourself in general, is already a special circumstance for a person being directly accused by the Ministry. The idea of having professional defenders makes no sense in that environment. – Holger Dec 8 '16 at 14:28
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    Another trial to remember is Hagrid's trial about Buckbeak in PoA - although there isn't a scene for it in the book, it's clear from his description that he didn't have legal representation and Hermione was the only one to provide him with any legal research at all. – Luna Dec 8 '16 at 14:31
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There does appear to be some manner of a legal profession in the Wizarding World; Scrimgeour hints at one in Deathly Hallows, in response to Hermione rules-lawyering1 him (emphasis mine):

"The Decree for Justifiable Confiscation gives the Ministry the power to confiscate the contents of a will —"

"That law was created to stop wizards passing on Dark artifacts," said Hermione, "and the Ministry is supposed to have powerful evidence that the deceased's possessions are illegal before seizing them! Are you telling me that you thought Dumbledore was trying to pass us something cursed?"

"Are you planning to follow a career in Magical Law, Miss Granger?" asked Scrimgeour.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Chapter 7: "The Will of Albus Dumbledore"

What form that takes is unclear, as we see no evidence of magical barristers or solicitors in the extended Potter canon. Perhaps the only legal authority is the legislature, perhaps the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has a public defender service, or perhaps there are private legal professionals.

For my part, I suspect that they exist, because lawyers are an emergent property of a legal system and labour specialization: as long as you have laws you will have some people who are better at understanding, interpreting, and arguing them, which created economic incentive for those people to sell their services. At the very least you would expect non-advocate solicitors, or somebody you could pay to give you legal advice; if defendants are allowed "help" in Wizengamot trials (which they appear to be, at least under some circumstances), you would also expect professional advocates to spring up, and at that point you basically have laywers as we know them.

However, I would note that the court cases we see in the books are quite unusual, and convened under extraordinary circumstances:

  • The Death Eater hearings in Dumbledore's memories come at the tail end of a quite miserable war that everybody just wants to be done with already
  • Harry's case is one in which the Minister is actively bending the law (as noted by Dumbledore) for political purposes
  • The Cattermole case is a kangaroo court in the extreme, where the defendant's guilt has already been decided and Umbridge just wants to feel powerful for a few minutes

Although the British Ministry is notoriously corrupt and ineffectual, it's not clear that these cases are representative of the general trend.


1 TVTropes link. It's dangerous to go alone

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    "A career in Magical Law" I believe simply means she would be working in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. – DisturbedNeo Dec 7 '16 at 15:01
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    @DisturbedNeo That is indeed a possibility – Jason Baker Dec 7 '16 at 15:06
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    Good find with the Scrimgeour quote. I would interpret that as a role for creating magical laws. i.e. Hermione has such a fine eye for detail that Scrimgeour is suggesting that she would be good at defining legal perimeters and technical detail. Although presumably that skill would also make her a handy barrister if such a profession existed in HP. – The Dark Lord Dec 7 '16 at 15:38
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Yes. At least, non-legal professionals acted as lawyers.

Courts in Harry Potter seem to operate using a jury system. The Wizengamot is summoned to hear a trial and pass judgement on individuals. There are no judges and the person presiding over proceedings is either the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement (as was the case in the trials Harry saw in the Pensieve), the Minister of Magic (as was the case in Harry's trial) or the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister (as was the case in Deathly Hallows). There seem to be certain people who are allocated as Interrogators.

Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister.
(Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 8, The Hearing.)

In the absence of formal solicitors these Interrogators seem to take on the function of barristers for the prosecution. They summon and question witnesses, try to build a case against the accused and seem to have an interest in securing a conviction. Of course, since we only have a limited number of examples within the books it's difficult to draw any firm conclusions. In each trial in the books the Interrogators are predominantly disciplinarians who have a vested interest in convicting the accused. It's clear that they are not neutral judges, however.

We also have the example of Dumbledore.

"Witness for the defence, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore," said a quiet voice behind Harry.
(Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 8, The Hearing.)

He may describe himself as Witness for the defence but he is obviously not acting as a witness since he wasn't there for the Dementor attack. He acts more as a defence counsel, riposting the arguments of the prosecution and seeking to prove the innocence of the accused. None of the other court cases feature any such defence counsel, from which I would say that a defence barrister was optional and only rarely used. After all, if a wealthy, young Quidditch star like Ludo Bagman seemingly defended himself then professional defence lawyers were obviously not the norm. As a matter of course, the accused would just answer the Interrogators' questions - although there was a Charter of Rights that allowed those who were defending themselves the right to call witnesses in their defence.

"I may be wrong," said Dumbledore pleasantly, "but I am sure that under the Wizengamot Charter of Rights, the accused has the right to present witnesses for his or her case? Isn't that the policy of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Madam Bones?" he continued, addressing the witch in the monocle.
"True," said Madam Bones. "Perfectly true."
(Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 8, The Hearing)

None of these individuals could be claimed to be professional, full-time lawyers (although Dumbledore was a former Chief Wizengamot). They are teachers, politicians and bureaucrats. But within the fairly informal legal setup in Harry Potter they perform the roles of lawyers within the court. So whilst, no, there isn't anyone that I'm aware of in Harry Potter that is a dedicated legal professional various characters function as lawyers when serving in the Wizengamot is part of their wider duties.

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    Defendants being "teachers, politicians and bureaucrats" would also fit quite well if Rowling was trying to impress on the reader how much the wizarding world is (or is turning into) a tyrannical bureaucracy. Why would you have a defender of your own, when the state can provide you with their own, right? And when they provide you with their own, why have one in the first place - why not have the prosecution be the defender as well, right? :P Did that arrangement come to be under the Dark Lord's influences, I wonder? Or it it just a jab at (post-/)WWII Britan? :D – Luaan Dec 8 '16 at 12:36
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(More of a comment than an answer, but here it is anyway...)

Something one needs to have in mind when it comes to the Harry Potter books is the scale involved. The are several estimates around about how many magical folks are in Britain, but even the most optimistic ones barely come up to the size of a small or mid-sized "normal" town.

The social effect cannot be underestimated; even the most important matters are still essentially equivalent to small town politics. Most people in, say, their 30s would have met in person a significant percentage of all the members of the community; they would also probably be aware of almost every family. Even the so-called "War" would barely be considered one by our standards.

So it would not be surprising if quite a few people find themselves in multiple positions at once, with additional occasional responsibilities when there's a need. It may also mean that the legal system is not quite as rigid as you would expect; when everybody knows everybody else Justice is definitely not blind.

Which is why we have teenage girls poring over legal books to help a poor creature survive (literally!) a hearing. Or people going to prison without even the basic requirement of a trial.

So, full-time lawyers? Probably not many, if any at all...

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The answer is No.

There has been no mention, in any canon medium, of any practicing wizard lawyers. Thomas More was a wizard and muggle lawyer, but he was not a wizard lawyer.

Wizengamot, as seen in the cases of Karkaroff, Harry Potter and Mary Cattermole, very much requires the defendant to fend for themselves. In the case of Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore announced himself as a Witness for the defence, and not any kind of legal representation, so it seems even in cases where an attorney would very much be called for, none are to be found.

  • Good answer, but does the book say that the legal reasoning for Dumbledore representing Harry was that Harry was not of age? I remember being under the impression that the defendant could generally be represented but that it was unusual. For evidence, before Harry goes to trial, none of the other characters even mentioned anything about him getting a defendant. If underage wizards or witches are normally supposed to be represented, shouldn't someone have mentioned it to comfort Harry before the trial? – DBPriGuy Dec 7 '16 at 15:08
  • Oh sorry, got underage wizarding confused with "Youth Representative of the Wizengemot", a title Dumbledore held for a time until his 18th birthday. – DisturbedNeo Dec 7 '16 at 15:25
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    Taking another look, it seems Dumbledore actually announces himself as a witness in Harry's defence, so I have no idea how this works, there doesn't seem to be any kind of format involved, it's just people shouting. Updated the answer. – DisturbedNeo Dec 7 '16 at 15:31
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    Oh wow, the whole system is more messed up than I thought. Or maybe JKR is really bad at [understanding of the legal system] – DBPriGuy Dec 7 '16 at 16:41
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    @DBPriGuy, I always viewed it as the Wizarding society being really bad at evolving past middle-ages-level social constructs; they are still very big on social status and reputation as measures of both authority and innocence, and have barely progressed past mob rule. – Hellion Dec 7 '16 at 17:18

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