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Law in Star Trek
Law in Star Trek refers to the legal procedures and processes as seen in
the Star Trek fictional universe. In several TV episodes and films since
its inception in the 1960s, Star Trek has used fictional legal
constraints and consequences as a plot device both as a parable for
contemporary society in the real world, and to explore the society and
politics of the future.
* 1 Federation law
o 1.1 Starfleet
+ 1.1.1 Starfleet Judge Advocate General Corps
+ 1.1.2 Shipboard discipline
+ 1.1.3 Police powers
o 1.2 Extradition and asylum
o 1.3 Treaty law
o 1.4 Death penalty
* 2 Non-Federation legal systems
o 2.1 Klingon
+ 2.1.1 Personal honor
+ 2.1.2 Family honor
+ 2.1.3 Vengeance
+ 2.1.4 Corruption
o 2.2 Cardassian
o 2.3 Other legal systems
* 3 Further reading
* 4 References
* 5 External links
The law of the United Federation of Planets is outlined in several
episodes of Star Trek and is based on several historic documents, such
as the Magna Carta and the Constitution of the United States. It also
incorporates aspects of fictional legal documents, such as the
Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies. The supreme law of
the Federation is described as either a "Charter" or a
Rights afforded to citizens of the Federation include the Seventh
Guarantee, against self-incrimination. Other rights include the right
to face an accuser, the right to counsel, the right to
cross-examination, and the right to examine any evidence brought before
a court. These rights may be extended to non-citizens who happen to
be under Federation jurisdiction.
The Federation affords authors of creative works, even if they are not
recognized legal persons, a measure of copyright protection.
The highest standing orders in Starfleet are the Prime Directive, also
known as General Order 1 (see Prime Directive), and the Omega
Directive (as time travel has been included in the Star Trek
universe, a Temporal Prime Directive will also become a fundamental law
circa the 29th century, far after the main time frames of the series
Starfleet Judge Advocate General Corps
Specific to the paramilitary nature of Starfleet, a judge advocate
general corps is responsible for investigating legal issues affecting
Starfleet personnel and conducting courts martial. Civilians may come
under Starfleet's jurisdiction if their crimes concern fraud in gaining
entry into Starfleet Academy. The relationship between Starfleet's
JAG corps, Inspector General's office, and Internal Affairs has
not been explained in canon.
Court martial procedure allows the accused to challenge any member of
the court if the accused feels that they may harbor a prejudiced
attitude towards their case. Additionally, the accused has the right to
consent to any Starfleet member who is appointed to sit on the court or
appointed as the prosecutor. The accused may also make a statement
In an emergency, Starfleet allows a court martial to be convened with a
minimum of three command-level (captain or above) officers
presiding. Additionally, an understaffed JAG office may call upon
senior starship officers to serve as ad hoc prosecution and defense
The loss of a starship automatically leads to a JAG court-martial.
Such courts-martial were held following the loss of the USS Pegasus
and the USS Stargazer. An officer found to be at fault for the loss
of a starship may be sentenced to a reduction in rank.
Starfleet maintains penal facilities in New Zealand on Earth, planet
Jaros II, and an unnamed starbase near station Deep Space Nine.
To date, confirmed JAG members include:
* Lieutenant Areel Shaw - prosecuted Captain James T. Kirk in his
2267 court-martial for alleged negligence in the death of Lieutenant
Commander Ben Finney
* Captain Phillippa Louvois - prosecuted Captain Picard over the
loss of the USS Stargazer and presided over a hearing which ruled
that Lieutenant Commander Data is not Starfleet property.
* Rear Admiral Bennett - arranged for Richard Bashir's incarceration
- and his son Julian Bashir's retention of a Starfleet commission -
as punishment when the genetic enhancements done to Julian were
* Judge Aaron Satie - father of Rear Admiral (ret.) Norah Satie,
noted civil liberties scholar whose decisions are required reading
at Starfleet Academy; wrote the line "With the first link, the chain
is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden,
the first freedom denied - chains us all, irrevocably.".
All five Star Trek TV series have assumed the ability of a commanding
officer to impose nonjudicial punishment. In the Enterprise episode
"Divergence," Captain Archer relieves Lieutenant Reed of duty and
confines him to the brig for withholding information about his orders
from Section 31. In the TOS episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," Captain
Kirk orders all officers involved in a bar fight to be confined to
On TNG, Captain Picard threatens an insubordinate Lt. Commander Data (in
actuality possessed by Ira Graves) with disciplinary action in "The
Schizoid Man." Additionally, Picard places a formal reprimand in Worf's
personnel record in "Reunion" after Worf killed Duras. He also relieved
Dr. Crusher of duty after she performed an autopsy on the late Dr. Reyga
against the wishes of Reyga's family. Finally, Captain Jellico
relieved Commander Riker of duty and further threatened to confine him
to quarters, on charges of insubordination, in "Chain of Command."
In the DS9 episode "Inquisition," Sloan subjected Dr. Bashir to
detention in a holding cell on suspicion of treason as a ruse to recruit
him into Section 31. In the film Star Trek: Insurrection, Admiral
Dougherty allows Captain Picard to continue to be held by the Son'a
after he attempts to foil the Baku relocation plan. In the Voyager
episode "Thirty Days," Tom Paris served a thirty day sentence in the
brig and was demoted to Ensign for disobeying Captain Janeway's orders.
Perhaps the most extreme case where nonjudicial punishment was imposed
was when Lon Suder was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to
confinement for life. This was due to the unique circumstances of
Voyager's isolation in the Delta Quadrant.
In addition to disciplining Starfleet officers, ship captains have also
been shown to impose nonjudicial punishment on civilians as well. For
example, Captain Janeway sentenced Neelix to two weeks of scrubbing
plasma manifolds as punishment for negotiating an illegal trade behind
her back. Additionally, in the TNG episode "Coming of Age," Captain
Picard ordered Commander Riker to give the teenager Jake Kurland a stern
refresher in discipline after the youth nearly kills himself with a
stolen shuttle. Finally, Captain Kirk ordered civilian trader Cyrano
Jones to sweep station K-7 of all tribbles, estimated to take
approximately 17.9 years, as punishment for bringing the furry creatures
to the station.
Related to the power of starship commanders to impose punishment,
Starfleet has been shown to have police powers over officers and
civilians alike in matters tangentially related to its operations. For
example, after Captain Kirk intercepted the stolen space cruiser Aurora,
he was ordered not to place those on board under arrest because one of
them was the son of an ambassador, thus implying that
notwithstanding orders he did have the power to do so. Additionally, Lt.
Commander Data asks Commander Riker to arrest trader Kivas Fajo for
kidnapping, theft, and murder, and to confiscate his collection.
When Ensign Ro went undercover as a deserter to infiltrate the Maquis,
her cover story was made more credible by the ruse of Starfleet officers
seeking to arrest her. Finally, when a mole was believed to be
funneling Starfleet intelligence information to the Orion Syndicate, a
civilian gang, Starfleet was charged with investigating the leak.
However, when Enterprise-D crew me mbers caught the Romulan Tallera on
Vulcan with the ancient Stone of Gol psionic weapon, she was transferred
to Vulcan internal security instead of being held by Starfleet. It
is unknown if the Federation maintains a policy analogous to the U.S.
Posse Comitatus Act limiting military jurisdiction over civilian law
Extradition and asylum
Extradition law has been seen in Star Trek on a number of occasions. In
the TOS episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," it is explained
that "Intergalactic Treaty clearly specifies that no being may be
extradited without due process." The episode then speaks of a hearing at
a Starbase to determine the status of the extradition. In the TNG
episode The Outrageous Okona, Captain Picard was forced to decide
competing claims for the extradition of the trader Thadiun Okona. Star
Trek: Deep Space Nine visited the issue twice. A hearing was held on
station DS9 when Ilon Tandro of Klaesron IV sought extradition of Jadzia
Dax for the murder of his father. Another hearing was held when Worf
was charged by the Klingon Empire for firing on a civilian transport
while in command of the USS Defiant. Although Jadzia Dax's extradition
was presided by a civilian Bajoran magistrate, because DS9 was
technically a Bajoran facility, Worf's extradition was presided by a
Asylum law is also frequent topic in Star Trek, especially as a means
for a character to escape extradition. For example, the Voyager episode
"Death Wish" unfolded over the course of an asylum hearing in which the
Q Continuum sought to return Quinn to captivity inside a comet. Other
instances where asylum was requested include the TNG episodes "Deja Q,"
"The Defector," and "Transfigurations," and the Voyager episode
A tenet of civil procedure that was apparently violated in the Voyager
episode "Death Wish" was the traditional prohibition against ex parte
communications between a litigant and a presiding officer.
Star Trek deals extensively with the concept of interstellar treaties as
the basis for relations between spacefaring races. Treaties exist
between the Federation and other major powers including the Klingons
(see Khitomer Accords), Cardassians, Romulans, and the
The idea of a "neutral zone" appears frequently in Star Trek, the first
such reference being in the original series to the Romulan Neutral
Zone. A Klingon Neutral Zone also is said to exist in Star Trek III:
The Search for Spock, with discussions of dismantling this zone being
the main plot of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (see also
Organian Peace Treaty). These neutral zones were perhaps modeled on the
real world Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone and the Saudi-Iraqi neutral zone,
both of which came into being before the term was first used in Star
Trek. Similar to the Neutral Zone is the concept of a demilitarized
zone, as between the Federation and the Cardassians. This is
apparently modeled on the real world Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Capital punishment is present in Star Trek as many races encountered in
the show practice execution. In the 23rd century, the "only death
penalty left on the books" in the Federation was General Order 7
referring to the prohibition of contact with planet Talos IV.
However, at least one Federation member planet imposed death sentences
for other crimes, demonstrating that planetary law and Federation
law may be separate, analogous to the legal concept of federalism
(hence, the Federation). A supremacy clause has never been discussed, as
in what would happen if a member planet's law contradicted Federation
law, although it is mentioned that the Federation will not accept member
planets that engage in such activities as slavery or use a caste
system. As of the 24th century, the Federation has apparently
abolished capital punishment, per a comment by Captain Picard to the Edo
that "no longer" does the Federation execute its criminals.
Non-Federation legal systems
The legal systems of the Klingon Empire, Cardassian Union, and Romulan
Empire are all featured in several Star Trek episodes. The Romulan
system resembles Federation law in some respects - the accused has the
right to make a statement before sentencing, and the right to
counsel. In Cardassian law, a person's guilt is decided before the
trial begins - the trial is used as a process for the court to show how
the person's guilt was proved. Klingon law is founded, more than
anything else, on the concept of honor.
Klingon law may allow for trials in only limited instances as determined
by political decision. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Kirk
and McCoy were prosecuted under "your" (ie, the Federation's)
"Interstellar Law," implying that special consideration was given in
this case. The Klingon High Council may act as a court of final appeal,
analogous to law lords, in deciding cases involving individuals and
estates. Although the Klingon law of inheritance is patrilineal,
the Chancellor of the High Council can grant "special dispensation" to a
widow to become the head of the house of her late husband.
Much of the Klingon legal system revolves around personal honor. The
ultimate punishment for a Klingon is discommendation, a process whereby
a Klingon is symbolically stripped of their honor by the High Council,
and their name can no longer be spoken. It is first revealed in the TNG
episode "Sins of the Father," when Worf accepts such a fate to maintain
unity within the Klingon Empire. Several references throughout the
episode indicate that such a fate is considered worse than execution.
Part of the ritual involves the High Council literally turning their
backs on the disgraced individual. This ritual is repeated in the DS9
episode "The House of Quark," when D'Ghor is publicly shamed by the High
Council for attempting to kill an unarmed Quark. However, a Klingon's
honor and good name may be unilaterally restored by the Chancellor of
the High Council.
Unlike other legal systems, which hold only individuals responsible for
their crimes, the Klingon legal system extends rewards and sanctions to
family members, through the law of heredity (G'now juk Hol pajhard):
* A son will share in the honors or crimes of his father.
* If a family member commits treason, the family will be dishonored
for seven generations.
* A Klingon who allows himself to be captured in battle dishonours
himself and his sons for three generations.
* In a house with no single patriarch, but with two or more
brothers, the elder brother speaks for the family.
* If a Klingon is injured and no longer able to function as a
warrior, he must perform the Heg'bat (ritual suicide) with the
assistance of his eldest son.
If a member of a house is killed dishonourably, another member of that
house may claim the right of vengeance, allowing that house member to
kill the murderer of their kin. This right supersedes even
discommendation - in the TNG episode "Reunion," a discommendated Worf is
allowed to challenge Duras, under the claim that Duras killed his mate,
K'Ehleyr. Worf faces no legal sanctions after killing Duras - the
Klingons consider the matter closed, even though Duras was one of the
contenders to lead the Empire.
However, this does not extend to those killed honourably. In the DS9
episode "The House of Quark," D'Ghor tells Quark that an accidental
death would pass disgrace onto the victim's family, but a death in
personal combat "would be honorable... and an honorable death needs no
The right of vengeance can also be extended to family members of the
accused. However, the wronged person has the right to spare the
accused's life, though such a decision is highly unorthodox. In the TNG
episode "Redemption, Part II," Worf is given the life of Toral, son of
Duras, as a result of Duras' crimes, even though Duras is long gone.
Worf refuses to kill the adolescent, and forbids anyone else to do it.
He states, "You gave his life to me... and I have spared it." The
decision is openly questioned, but allowed to stand.
Klingons often mention the importance of honor, and a common criticism
Klingons make of Romulans is that they are a race "without
honor." However, there are several incidents portrayed in Star
Trek where not only individual Klingons, but the Klingon government
itself is shown to act with questionable ethics. In the DS9 episode
"The House of Quark," it was revealed that D'Ghor was engaged in
dishonorable financial scheming in an attempt to acquire the property of
his brother Kozak. In the DS9 episode "Rules of Engagement," Worf is
accused of firing upon a civilian transport without cause, killing 441
Klingons. However, it is later revealed that the entire incident was a
political ruse, intended to discredit Worf and the Federation. Another
instance of governmental corruption was the High Council's scapegoating
of Mogh for the treason of Ja'rod, a decision brought about by the
political influence of Ja'rod's son Duras.
In the DS9 episode "Tacking Into the Wind," Ezri Dax suggests that these
problems are not limited to individuals, but have become systematic
within the culture: "I see a society in deep denial about itself. We're
talking about a warrior culture that prides itself on maintaining
centuries-old traditions of honor and integrity... but in reality, it's
willing to accept corruption at the highest level."
In the Cardassian legal system, trials are entirely a formality and only
have a ceremonial function. Nevertheless, the accused is represented by
counsel (called a "conservator") and is advised by a "nestor." The trial
judge, called the "archon," also prosecutes for the state. The verdict,
which is always guilty, is determined long before the actual trial is
held. The accused learns what he or she allegedly committed, and how
their guilt was proven, at the trial. The conservator's and nestor's
roles are not to zealously defend their client, but rather to persuade
the accused to accept his guilt.
Other legal systems
The Ferengi culture and legal system is based entirely on commerce, and
the 285 Rules of Acquisition comprise the sacred code on which all of
Ferengi society is based. In addition, Ferengi law strictly forbids
women from earning profit, leaving the homeworld, or even wearing
clothes. Ferengi law also upholds the supremacy of contract, as in
"a contract is a contract is a contract." A Ferengi who breaks a
contract may be stripped of his license to conduct business within the
Ferengi Alliance. However, per the 17th Rule of Acquisition, this
applies only to contracts between Ferengis.
The Q are noncorporeal, extremely powerful (though by their own
admission in "Death Wish"[VOY], not omnipotent) beings who live in an
extradimensional plane of existence. Any Q has the power to travel
immense distances, through time, or between parallel universes, at
will. Therefore, because their actions have far-ranging
consequences for the entire universe, the Q purportedly take
self-discipline extremely seriously. For example, reckless
endangerment of less advanced species can result in exile and the loss
of a Q's powers. When a Q is deemed to be a danger to himself,
such as when Quinn chose to commit suicide, he can be involuntarily
confined indefinitely. Members of the Q who choose to leave the
Continuum are forbidden to continue to use their powers; if they do,
they may be summarily executed. Within the Continuum, sedition is
also not tolerated.
The Q claimed the power to put humanity as a whole on trial to determine
humans' fitness to exist as a spacefaring race. After seven years of
observation, the Q passed a verdict of guilty, and sought to deny
humanity not only spaceflight but outright existence. However, this
verdict was apparently reversed thanks to the actions of Captain
The Edo, inhabitants of Rubicun III, live in a virtual utopia. Because
anyone who violates the law--no matter how minor an offense--is punished
by death, there is thus virtually no crime on the planet.
The Argrathl legal system has trials. Those sentenced to prison for
serious crimes are actually implanted with the memories of being in
prison for the specified amount of time, in a process that takes only
The Banea legal system has trials. If prosecuted for murder, the
criminal is forced to continuously relive the memories of victim at the
point of death.
Ventax II has an adversarial legal system in which the validity of a
contract can be subjected to arbitration.
The Sheliak Corporate are a highly legalistic society, and insist on a
high level of legal precision because they regard the Federation as a
lesser civilization. The Treaty of Armens is over 500,000 words long and
was negotiated by 372 Federation legal experts. There is a third party
arbitration clause in the treaty, and the petitioner has the right to
choose who will arbitrate.
The Sikarian canon of laws prohibited the sharing of their advanced
teleportation technology with outsiders. This policy may be viewed as an
analogue of the Federation's Prime Directive.
The Voth are reptilian nomads that live in the Delta Quadrant, despite
being descended from Earth's dinosaurs. They have a strict dogmatic
world view that rejects the "Distant Origin" theory in favor of a
creation myth which holds that they are indigenous to the Delta
Quadrant. Being technologically superior, Voth doctrine also holds that
species non-indigenous to the Delta Quadrant have no rights. The crime
of "heresy against doctrine" is punishable by imprisonment or death,
unless retracted. Even so, someone deemed a heretic may still be put by
the Ministry of Elders into a career dead end.
The Mari are telepaths, but live virtually crime-free by purging
themselves of violent thoughts. Even accidentally projecting violence
can result in arrest and the punishment of an engramatic purge.
Nevertheless, an underground trade in such thoughts exists.
The Trill exist as a joined species. Because there are only about 300
symbionts available for joining with humanoid hosts at any given time,
the fact that up to half the Trill population is physiologically capable
of joining is a closely guarded state secret to prevent commodification
of the symbionts.
Reassociation, by which two joined Trill resume the romantic relations
of their previous hosts, is strictly forbidden, because the purpose of
symbionts joining with different hosts is to acquire new life
experiences, not relive old ones. Those caught reassociating can be
exiled from Trill, resulting in the death of the symbiont upon the death
of the host.
* Adventures in Law and Justice: exploring big legal questions in
everyday life by Bryan Horrigan, Univ. New S. Wales Press 2003, ISBN
* Star Trek Visions of Law and Justice by Chaires, Robert (EDT) &
Chilton, Bradley (EDT), Texas A & M Univ Pr, ISBN 0966808029,
1. ^ See, e.g., Michael Stokes Paulsen, CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK AND THE
ENTERPRISE OF CONSTITUTIONAL INTERPRETATION: SOME MODEST PROPOSALS
FROM THE TWENTY-THIRD CENTURY, 59 Alb. L. Rev. 671 (1995); Paul
Joseph and Sharon Carton, THE LAW OF THE FEDERATION: IMAGES OF LAW,
LAWYERS, AND THE LEGAL SYSTEM IN "STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION", 24
U. Tol. L. Rev. 43 (1992)
2. ^ a b c d TOS "Court Martial"
3. ^ ENT "Zero Hour"
4. ^ VOY "The Void"
5. ^ a b c TNG "The Drumhead"
6. ^ TNG "The Perfect Mate"
7. ^ VOY "Author, Author"
8. ^ VOY "The Omega Directive"
9. ^ VOY "Future's End"
10. ^ a b DS9 "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?"
11. ^ TNG "Coming of Age"
12. ^ DS9 "Inquisition"
13. ^ a b TOS "The Menagerie"
14. ^ a b c d TNG "The Measure of a Man"
15. ^ TNG "The Pegasus"
16. ^ Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
17. ^ VOY "Caretaker"
18. ^ TNG "Ensign Ro"
19. ^ DS9 "Blaze of Glory"
20. ^ TNG "Suspicions"
21. ^ VOY "Meld"
22. ^ VOY "Fair Trade"
23. ^ TOS "The Trouble With Tribbles"
24. ^ TOS "The Way to Eden"
25. ^ TNG "The Most Toys"
26. ^ TNG "Preemptive Strike"
27. ^ DS9 "Honor Among Thieves"
28. ^ TNG "Gambit, Part II"
29. ^ DS9 "Dax"
30. ^ TNG "The Wounded"
31. ^ a b TOS "Balance of Terror"
32. ^ DS9 "What You Leave Behind"
33. ^ DS9 "The Maquis"
34. ^ TOS "The Cloud Minders"
35. ^ DS9 "Accession"
36. ^ a b TNG "Justice"
37. ^ TOS "The Enterprise Incident"
38. ^ a b DS9 "Tribunal"
39. ^ a b c d e TNG "Sins of the Father"
40. ^ a b DS9 "The House of Quark"
41. ^ a b c TNG Redemption
42. ^ a b TNG "Birthright"
43. ^ TNG "Ethics"
44. ^ TNG "The Enemy"
45. ^ DS9 "Family Business"
46. ^ DS9 "Body Parts"
47. ^ a b TNG "True Q"
48. ^ TNG "Tapestry"
49. ^ a b TNG "All Good Things..."
50. ^ a b VOY "Death Wish"
51. ^ a b TNG "Deja Q"
52. ^ VOY "Q2"
53. ^ VOY "The Q and the Grey"
54. ^ TNG "Encounter at Farpoint"
55. ^ DS9 "Hard Time"
56. ^ VOY "Ex Post Facto"
57. ^ TNG "Devil's Due"
58. ^ TNG "The Ensigns of Command"
59. ^ VOY "Prime Factors"
60. ^ VOY "Distant Origin"
61. ^ VOY "Random Thoughts"
62. ^ DS9 "Equilibrium"
63. ^ DS9 "Rejoined"
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