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This tribunal is without doubt the oldest justice institution in existence in the whole of Europe.  For over one thousand years, i.e., 10 centuries, the tribunal have met every Thursday, except for 2 or 3 over the Christmas period.  The tribunal consists of eight members, who are democratically elected every two years, from the working landowners.  A day worker for example could not be elected.    They meet outside the door of the Apostlesof the Cathedral in Valencia, at midday when the bells from the Miquelete Tower toll the twelve strokes and sit in a circle outside the entrance on chairs for the XVII Century.  These eight members exercise supreme authority in matters of irrigation in the famous plain of Valencia.  They are the Deputies of the eight canals built by the Romans over 2000 years ago and which supply the plain in Valencia with water.   These eight members constitute the famous Water Court of the Plain of Valencia.

Meeting of the Valencian water courtIt was in the Roman period when the tribunal was formed, although there are no official records of its existence until the year 960,  under the reign of the Caliph of Cordoba Abderraman III. However, it was King Jaime I, the conqueror, who approved the system of administering irrigation water to the Valencia plain in 1258 giving the population the same rights that were started under Arab rule.

The complex network of irrigational canals that interwove that ancient kingdom were perfect in establishing a just and fair way to ensure that everyone received sufficient water, a right to which they were all entitled. The meeting point was outside the main door of the Cathedral, allowing the Arab landowners to attend as their religion did not permit them to enter into a Christian church.

The discussions are conducted in Valenciano, the language spoken in the Valencia region and the judicial process is quick and effective.  The tribunal listens toA view of the Cathedral both sides and gives its verdict the same day.  The decisions are absolute and there is no right of appeal.

Throughout its 10 centuries of existence, different governments and political regimes, the Tribunal has been respected and its decisions upheld.  It has ensured that in times of abundance the water is distributed as fairly as when it is in short supply and distributed according to surface area of the fields.

The tribunal’s prestige is not only recognised among the land owners but also by the rest of society, everyone voluntarily accept the decision of the 8 elected members.

During its existence, different countries have been interested in it’s rules and how it works and after various studies on 30th September 2009 it was recognised by UNESCO as part of our Cultural Heritage. It continues today to impart justice quickly and effectively.

F.J. Villaplana.

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