Trial by combat is a popular method of dispute resolution in the Game of Thrones universe. While modern legal systems reject trial by combat as an unjust and barbaric practice, this article examines whether trial by combat may be employed as a means of private dispute resolution in the United States. This article evaluates whether ‘arbitration by combat’ provisions based on Game of Thrones and various historical approaches to trial by combat would be upheld by state laws and protected under the United States’ Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). This article concludes that while Game of Thrones-style arbitration by combat may violate state contract and criminal laws, arbitration by combat that conforms to less-violent historic practices may survive state law challenges and may even fall under the protection of the FAA.Raj and I wrote this for a special issue of the Media and Arts Law Review dedicated to the subject of "Law and Law Breaking in Game of Thrones." Melissa de Zwart of the University of Adelaide Law School was extremely helpful throughout the editing process, as was an anonymous peer reviewer who provided numerous insightful suggestions and comments. Raj was extremely helpful and patient as a coauthor, as several deadlines in the editing process tended to coincide with me being in trial. Even when my schedule became hectic, Raj managed to provide thoughtful edits for the paper as a whole, making the final article far superior to what I alone could have produced.
Readers should know that I have not read any of the Game of Thrones books and that I have only seen a few episodes of the series. Raj is to thank for the sections of the paper regarding Game of Thrones (although I have seen some clips of the show's trial by combat to understand how violent the practice can be). Raj also primarily wrote the sections pertaining to the Federal Arbitration Act -- my contributions to the paper include the discussion of historic trial by combat and state-level obstacles to arbitration by combat provisions.
Finally, I would like to note the inadvertently timely publication of this article. A New York attorney recently invoked trial by combat in his own litigation proceedings. While that instance of trial by combat is unlikely to take place, I hope that our article can provide some insight into how trial by combat proceedings may find their way into the litigation process.