crasch (crasch) wrote,

Polycentric Law

Humane Studies Review Volume 7, Number 1
Winter 1991/92 Polycentric Law by Tom W. Bell

>From the introduction:

"As any cynic will confirm, money and law
have a lot in common. But their ties run even deeper than most
suspect. Money and law had similar origins: both arose spontaneously
out of the undirected actions of individuals seeking common standards
for mutual coordination. Money and law developed in parallel fashion,
too: medieval Europeans enjoyed competition in currencies and legal
systems until monarchies took over both fields. And state monopolies
in money and law now present common hazards: they are imposed by fiat,
inefficiently operated, and (as the cynics point out) jointly
corrupting. However, a new generation of scholars has come to question
the need for state monopolies in money and law. In the place of
central banks they advocate a free banking system. In the place of
state legal systems they advocate overlapping private jurisdictions in
free and open competition -- a polycentric legal system.

This article offers an introduction to
polycentric law. It begins by reviewing research on customary legal
systems, using Anglo-Saxon law as an exemplar. Then the article traces
how state law rose to domination in the competition among medieval
European legal systems. This account reveals that privately produced
law survived the state's onslaught and has recently enjoyed a
resurgence. After surveying current theories of polycentric legal
systems, I will suggest another parallel between money and law: just
as research in free banking has recently enjoyed a surge of interest,
so too the study of polycentric law stands on the verge of new and
rapid growth. (In this article I employ " polycentric law," "
privately produced law," and " purely private law"
interchangeably. Others use " non- monopolistic law." See Randy
Barnett, " Four Senses of the Private-Public Law Distinction," in
Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 9 [Spring 1986,
pp. 267-276].)..."

Polycentric Law in the New Millennium By Tom
W. Bell Alexandria, Virginia May, 1998

"...The Internet has just begun to develop
generic adjudication and alternative dispute resolution services to
which, in contrast to the Real Name System, any mutually consenting
parties can turn for help. These online [p. 13/p. 14] experiments
promise to open up exciting new frontiers in polycentric law. A quick
review of three such services, the Virtual Magistrate, Internet
Neutral, and the Online Ombuds Office, illustrates this burgeoning

The Virtual Magistrate is an on-line
arbitration and fact-finding system designed to settle disputes
involving Internet users, parties who complain that on-line conduct
has harmed them, or (to the extent that complaints implicate them)
system operators.[36] Its organizers, for the most part academics,
have given careful thought to why Internet disputes call for special
legal procedures. On the Internet, they explain,

People all over the world interact in real
time and take actions that affect the rights, interests, and feelings
of others. When conflicts arise over similar activities in the "real"
world, regular courts are available to resolve resulting formal
complaints. But the court system is too slow, too expensive, and too
inaccessible to address all problems that arise on the Net. Also, with
people from many countries communicating on the Net, traditional
nation-based legal remedies are especially difficult to apply.[37]

The Virtual Magistrate Project has adopted
procedures uniquely suited to Internet law. Filings and other
communications normally take place solely via email; neither the
parties nor their virtual magistrate need ever meet
face-to-face. Indeed, they need not even leave their computer
terminals! Proceedings move at the accelerated pace of [p. 14/p. 15]
"Internet time," with decisions issuing within 72 hours of the receipt
of a complaint.[38] Far from merely interpreting and applying State
law to disputes, virtual magistrates examine the standards of network
etiquette and applicable contracts to determine the evolving shape of
Internet law.[39]

Another ADR project, Internet Neutral,
demonstrates the diversity of polycentric legal services that have
already taken root on the Internet.[40] In contrast to the Virtual
Magistrate, Internet Neutral offers solely mediation and uses on-line
chat rather than email to conduct proceedings.[41] It also, again in
contrast to the Virtual Magistrate, operates on a for-profit

Yet another project, the Online Ombuds
Office, offers mediation via email, at no charge, as part of
non-profit experiment in developing Internet ADR programs.[43] Its
most interesting work has yet to come. The Online Ombuds Office aims
to develop a sophisticated interactive multimedia virtual environment,
called "LegalSpace," to facilitate [p. 15/p. 16] online ADR.[44] If
successful, LegalSpace will make polycentric legal services easy to
use and instantly accessible for the millions (and counting) of
netizens worldwide...."

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