|Code of Canon Law|
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THE TRIBUNAL OF FIRST INSTANCE
Can. 1419 §1. In each diocese and for all cases not expressly excepted by law, the judge of first instance is the diocesan bishop, who can exercise judicial power personally or through others according to the following canons.
§2. If a case concerns the rights or temporal goods of a juridic person represented by the bishop, the appellate tribunal judges in first instance.
Can. 1420 §1. Each diocesan bishop is bound to appoint a judicial vicar, or offcialis, with ordinary power to judge, distinct from the vicar general unless the small size of the diocese or the small number of cases suggests otherwise.
§2. The judicial vicar constitutes one tribunal with the bishop but cannot judge cases which the bishop reserves to himself.
§3. The judicial vicar can be given assistants who are called adjutant judicial vicars, or vice-officiales.
§4. Both the judicial vicar and adjutant judicial vicars must be priests, of unimpaired reputation, doctors or at least licensed in canon law, and not less than thirty years of age.
§5. When the see is vacant, they do not cease from their function and cannot be removed by the diocesan administrator; when the new bishop arrives, however, they need confirmation.
Can. 1421 §1. In a diocese, the bishop is to appoint diocesan judges, who are to be clerics.
§2. The conference of bishops can also permit the appointment of lay persons as judges; when it is necessary, one of them can be selected to form a college.
§3. Judges are to be of unimpaired reputation and doctors or at least licensed in canon law.
Can. 1422 The judicial vicar, adjutant judicial vicars, and other judges are appointed for a definite time, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 1420, §5 and cannot be removed except for a legitimate and grave cause.
Can. 1423 §1. With the approval of the Apostolic See, several diocesan bishops can agree to establish a single tribunal of first instance for their dioceses in place of the diocesan tribunals mentioned in ⇒ cann. 1419-1421. In this case, the group of bishops or a bishop they designate has all the powers which a diocesan bishop has over his own tribunal.
§2. The tribunals mentioned in §1 can be established either for any cases whatsoever or only for certain types of cases.
Can. 1424 In any trial, a single judge can employ two assessors who consult with him; they are to be clerics or lay persons of upright life.
Can. 1425 §1. With every contrary custom reprobated, the following cases are reserved to a collegiate tribunal of three judges:
1/ contentious cases: a) concerning the bond of sacred ordination; b) concerning the bond of marriage, without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. ⇒ 1686 and ⇒ 1688;
2/ penal cases: a) concerning delicts which can entail the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state; b) concerning the imposition or declaration of an excommunication.
§2. The bishop can entrust more difficult cases or those of greater importance to the judgment of three or five judges.
§3. Unless the bishop establishes otherwise in individual cases, the judicial vicar is to assign the judges in order by turn to adjudicate individual cases.
§4. If it happens that a collegiate tribunal cannot be established in the first instance of a trial, the conference of bishops can permit the bishop, for as long as the impossibility continues, to entrust cases to a single clerical judge who is to employ an assessor and auditor where possible.
§5. The judicial vicar is not to substitute judges once they have been assigned except for a most grave cause expressed in a decree.
Can. 1426 §1. A collegiate tribunal must proceed collegially and render its sentences by majority vote.
§2. The judicial vicar or an adjutant judicial vicar must preside over a collegiate tribunal insofar as possible.
Can. 1427 §1. If there is a controversy between religious or houses of the same clerical religious institute of pontifical right, the judge of first instance is the provincial superior unless the constitutions provide otherwise; if it is an autonomous monastery, the local abbot judges in first instance.
§2. Without prejudice to a different prescript of the constitutions, if a contentious matter arises between two provinces, the supreme moderator will judge in first instance either personally or through a delegate; if the controversy is between two monasteries, the abbot superior of the monastic congregation will judge in first instance.
§3. Finally, if the controversy arises between physical or juridic religious persons of different religious institutes or of the same clerical institute of diocesan right or of the same lay institute, or between a religious and a secular cleric or lay person or a non-religious juridic person, the diocesan tribunal judges in first instance.