To the outsider, a foreign legal system may at times appear irrational, with a belief in the efficacy, usually with supernatural assistance, of curses, oaths and ordeals, and that animals may properly be punished, even restrained from anti-human behaviour, after a criminal trial. But caution must be exercised. There may be little real belief that the deity will intervene-for instance, that the ordeal will reveal guilt or innocence. Rather, the society may be faced with an intolerable problem, with no reasonable solution, and the participants may resort to extraordinary legal measures as a "Last Best Chance", or "The Second Best". Something has to be done, even if nothing satisfactory can be done. This dodge reveals itself by its use being restricted to a few situations. Thus in ancient Hebrew law ritual legal cursing is not used as a punishment, and in fact is found only where a husband accuses his wife of adultery but has not the very strict evidence required by law. The medieval ordeal was normally used only for serious offenses and where there was considerable evidence against the accused. The main purpose of "The Last Best Chance" is to produce a result but, paradoxically perhaps, it serves to preserve the integrity of the system.
Curses, Oaths, Ordeals and Tials of Animals
Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/837