Samuel von Cocceji, a member of the Law's Hall of Fame,  was the son of a law professor.

Born in Heidelberg on November 20, 1679, Cocceji obtained his law degree from the University of Frankfurt at the very young age of 20. He spent 30 years toiling away first as a law professor at the same university, and later, as a judge.

While busy judging, Cocceji passed a number of his proposals for reform up the chain of command. They got nowhere. But when, in 1740, the new Prussian king, Frederick the Great needed a reliable and credible hand to reform the delivery of justice in the realm, Cocceji resigned his judicial post and threw himself into the task.

Samuel von CoccejiIt would take him eight years just to package the reforms; more to implement. He would earn the description Frederick once gave of him: caractère intègre et droit (a man of law and integrity).

On horseback or carriage, he toured Prussia to meet the men of the law in the regions of the kingdom.

He regularly briefed Frederick on developments and his train of thought. Starting in 1746, he delivered a full set of reforms including a new, and thick code of law. The jurist was already 66 years old. Frederick read it over and gave it his approval, as did his council of ministers, adding that Cocceji should implement it first in the Province of Pomerania. Once he received approval to implement his plan of reform, Cocceji put together a small committee of six and set out for Pomerania.

Implementation was indeed, another matter. The justice reforms were at first and generally well-received, though not unanimously.

Cocceji's innovations were long-overdue (for more, see Frederick The Great's Great Law Reforms). He ferreted out unqualified lawyers. A small claims jurisdiction was established. Litigants found it much more difficult to re-litigate their claim to in another court just because they did not like the judgment of another. To make sure this stuck, any litigant who failed to successive appeals and to pay, to borrow from Professor Weill, "a heavy fine". A plethora of official courts was streamlined and consolidated.

Perhaps the greatest immediate advantage, at least to the peasants, the artisans and the middle class, was the elimination of courts exclusive to the noble class. The reforms also occasioned a significant drop in cost of litigation. To that point, any wealthy nobleman could defeat the peasant in a court of law by simply relitigating until the lower-cost litigant ran out of funds.

Cocceji only made it through phase one and two of his comprehensive project: justice system and procedural reform. Although he had delivered a full code of law by 1751, called by many names, the German being Projekt des Corporis Juris Fridericiani, it was never implemented although it was translated into many languages. According to some experts, and depending on the definition of a code of law, it was the first comprehensive code since Justinian.

Samuel von Cocceji died on October 22, 1755, even while his Codex Frederich gathered dust and was never enacted anywhere.

In 1773, when Frederick again set his mind to law reform, a national law code was published and implemented in Prussia, but which bore only some resemblance to Cocceji's draft.

The biggest legacy of Cocceji was the consolidation and organization of the administration of justice by a central government, and the attendant opening of the halls of justice to all classes. This policy would be emulated across Europe resulting in the gradual elimination of an enormous labyrinth of courts of law created piecemeal in the Middle Ages. His legal mind was ahead of his time. It was not until 1873 that England consolidated its system of courts inherited from the Middle Ages.

Of course, this did not happen overnight. Over two decades after Cocceji's death, a stream up from a small mill near the Prussian town of Züllichan (now in Poland) was dammed, setting in motion an extraordinary sequence of judicial events which would pursue the task of equalizing the status of peasants and nobles - not just in a Prussian court of law - but around the world.

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