Graphē paranómōn
The graphē paranómōn was a form of legal action believed to have been introduced at Athens under the democracy
Athenian democracy
Athenian democracy developed in the Greek city-state of Athens, comprising the central city-state of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, around 508 BC. Athens is one of the first known democracies. Other Greek cities set up democracies, and even though most followed an Athenian model,...

 somewhere around the year 415 BC
415 BC
Year 415 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Tribunate of Cossus, Vibulanus, Volusus and Cincinnatus...

; it has been seen as a replacement for ostracism which fell into disuse around the same time.

The name means "suit against (bills) contrary to the laws." The suit could be brought against laws or decrees that had already been passed, or earlier when they were merely proposals. Once someone announced under oath
An oath is either a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow...

 that he intended to bring such a suit, the legislation
Legislation is law which has been promulgated by a legislature or other governing body, or the process of making it...

 or decree in question was suspended until the matter was resolved. The thinking was that, as there was no mechanism at Athens for unmaking a law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

, any new law should not be in contradiction with the already existing laws.

The suit served a double function. Firstly, it provided a means of reviewing and perhaps rescinding decrees and legislation passed by the assembly. In this it seems to resemble a court of review such as the modern U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

. However, the judges (who in English are usually referred to as jurors) of the judicial formations of the Athenian court of Heliaia
Heliaia or Heliaea was the supreme court of ancient Athens. Τhe view generally held among scholars is that the court drew its name from the ancient Greek verb , which means , namely congregate. Another version is that the court took its name from the fact that the hearings were taking place...

 were, like those attending assembly, ordinary citizens and not legal experts, just as the court used was a general one and not a panel devoted to legislative matters. (Jurors, it is true, had a slightly higher status, as they had to be over thirty, not twenty as for the assembly, and they were under oath.) The mechanism can be compared to the upper house
Upper house
An upper house, often called a senate, is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house; a legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.- Possible specific characteristics :...

s found in many modern democracies. However at Athens this review was not automatic, but had to be initiated by a citizen. Unlike both an upper house or a specially established court, the review was not framed as an impartial and objective re-examination, but was couched as a prosecution to be defended by a defendant who stood to suffer a penalty in the event of conviction.

In this lies its second function: it provided a weapon with which rival Athenian politicians could damage or eliminate each other, or from another perspective, a means by which the Athenian demos
Demos may refer to:* Demos, a rhetorical term for the population of an ancient Greek state** Deme or Demoi, the term for an ancient subdivision of Attica, Greece...

 could favour or punish the leaders who served it. The suit was brought against the speaker who had proposed the motion in the assembly: he was regarded as having misled the people and corrupted the laws of the state, since the assembly itself was not accountable to anyone and by a kind of structural fiction (see legal fiction
Legal fiction
A legal fiction is a fact assumed or created by courts which is then used in order to apply a legal rule which was not necessarily designed to be used in that way...

) could do no wrong. The liability of the proposer expired after one year; after that the law itself could still be attacked and rescinded, but the proposer would not suffer any penalty. After five years the law itself was no longer subject to the suit.

The penalty for conviction was usually a fine, sometimes small but sometimes so large it could not be paid. In this case disenfranchisement (atimia
Atimia (loss of citizen rights)
Atimia was a form of disenfranchisement used under classical Athenian democracy. A person who was made atimos, literally without honour or value, was unable to carry out the political functions of a citizen...

) would result, effectively ending a political career. Because of this, active politicians began recruiting surrogates to propose bills that they themselves had authored. Penalties would then fall on the surrogate rather than on the politician himself.

Very many of the known prosecutions concern not substantive legislation but honorary decrees, seemingly of little importance from a modern viewpoint. These did however allow discussion of a wide range of questions and issues. A signal example is the pair of speeches surviving from a graphe paranomon from 333 BC, Demosthenes
Demosthenes was a prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by...

' On the Crown in response to Aeschines
Aeschines was a Greek statesman and one of the ten Attic orators.-Life:Although it is known he was born in Athens, the records regarding his parentage and early life are conflicting; but it seems probable that his parents, though poor, were respectable. Aeschines' father was Atrometus, an...

' Against Ctesiphon.
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