Edict Creating "Superior Councils" (23 February 1771)
Obliged to provide judges for our subjects, we have first turned to the officers of our council, whose talents, intelligence, zeal, and service have always justified our confidence. Having provided for the immediate needs, we looked forward and have felt that in these circumstances the interests of our peoples, the good of the judicial system, and our very future required reform of the abuses existing in the administration of justice. We recognized that the venality of offices, a result of the adversity of the moment, presented an obstacle to the choice of our officers and often excluded those who, by virtue of their talents and merit, most deserved to belong in the magistracy. We owe our subjects a swift, unsullied, and cost-free system of justice, and the slightest hint of private interest could only serve to offend the sensibilities of the magistrates responsible for maintaining the inviolable rights of honor and property. The excessive size of the jurisdiction of our Parlement of Paris was infinitely harmful to those within its purview who were obliged to leave their families behind in order to come and seek a slow and expensive legal decision. Already exhausted by the expense of their trips and travels, their ruin was assured by the length and multiplicity of the proceedings, often forcing them to abandon their completely legitimate claims. Finally, we have considered that the custom which forces seigneurs to bear the costs of prosecuting crimes committed within the bounds of their jurisdiction was a very heavy burden upon them, sometimes a reason to allow the criminal to escape.
In consequence, we have decided to establish high courts in various provinces whose officers will be freely chosen on the basis of their talents, experience, and ability, and who will receive no pay besides their salaries. In this way, by bringing the judges closer to the people in their jurisdiction, we shall facilitate access to the courts and make them more useful. By simplifying the forms and diminishing the costs of lawsuits, we shall make these courts more beloved by the people. Finally, by showing those lords who dispense justice that it is to their personal advantage to prosecute the guilty and by compensating them for the costs of criminal trials, we shall ensure that our subjects will be peaceful, that the public order will be maintained, and that crimes will be punished. If, in order to carry out these intentions we have been forced to narrow the legal jurisdiction of our Parlement of Paris, we have made it our responsibility to preserve all its rights and prerogatives. As the depository of the law, the parlement is responsible for the promulgation and execution of those laws, for pointing out their weaknesses, and for informing us of the needs of our peoples. Final judge of all questions which involve our crown and the rights of peers and peerage, our parlement will continue to enjoy the most precious sort of prestige, that which is conferred by virtue, intelligence, zeal, and impartiality.