On Blackstone 7: Camera Stellata

Camera Stellata is the Latin name for the Star Chamber, an English Royal prerogative court that evolved starting in the 14th century from the King’s Council that met at Westminster. The name comes from the azure ceilinged room with gilded stars the Council met in. Over the course of the next two centuries it became infamous for its inquisitorial and ex parte proceedings. It convicted people in rigged trials without juries, and publicly tortured them. In 1641, in one of its first actions, the Long Parliament abolished it.

Some of its primary features were lack of a jury, inquisitorial process, and arbitrary punishment (including the slitting of noses and severing of ears). It engaged in religious persecution against Puritans, as well as censorship. It was popular with the Crown because it was efficient and unhindered by the due process of the Common Law.

The Framers considered the Star Chamber a hallmark of tyranny, and Blackstone took a dim view of it. Commenting on Henry VII’s distortion of the law to enrich the crown, Blackstone says:

To this end the court of star-chamber was new modeled, and armed with powers, the most dangerous and unconstitutional, over the persons and properties of the subject.

4 B 277 (Oxford ed. 2016).

To this day it is used as a pejorative term for a court that subverts due process to the ends of the executive.

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