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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Traveller Thursday: the Moot Room

I'm trying to make something productive out this week, so here's a little something that was mentioned in one of my adventures but was never actually used. Think of it as a "DVD extra" from an RPG session.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Across the Third Imperium, in every starport of Class C or better (and in half of all Class D 'ports) there exists a place called the Moot Room. This room is neither part of the native world, nor is it part of the Imperium; it is a useful legal fiction that creates a completely neutral zone.

Interestingly enough, it isn't named after the Imperial Moot, although that is the common assumption. Instead, it is named because while inside the room, all laws, regulations and treaties are considered null; hence, everything is up for debate (the proper definition of moot) and nothing, not even laws, have any meaning (the improper definition).

To have a Moot Room, a starport needs the following:
  1. A room or a building straddling the Extrality Line. It typically ranges in size from that of a small shed, only capable of holding a few people (Class D) to a large, comfortable, and fully-stocked conference room that would not be out of place within an embassy (Class A). 
  2. A minimum of two entrances, one on either side of the line. Particularly nice Rooms will have a third entrance that leads to a private airlock, berth or landing pad; if so, the docking facilities are also considered Moot. 
  3. NO communication devices within the room, and as much privacy-granting shielding as the tech level will support. The higher the class of starport, the better the privacy. 
  4. Highly disciplined Starport Authority security personnel,  trained in law and ethics. These are stationed outside both doors, unless the participants request their presence inside. While these SPA personnel are not proper lawyers, they do serve as paralegals, official witnesses, notaries, and the like. 
The purpose of the Moot Room is to give individuals a place to discuss anything without fear of legal repercussion. It is a room of absolute freedom of expression, where nothing is taboo and everything is permitted. Yes, even murder; but if you can murder someone in that room, they can murder you as well, so parties meeting in the Moot Room usually request a weapons scans by the SPA before entering.*

The original purpose of the Moot Room was to allow people who might be considered criminals on a world -- pirates, refugees, political dissidents -- to interact with agents from that world without putting themselves in jeopardy of arrest or extradition. Similarly, it allows agents of a world to interact with enemies of the state without making themselves liable for dereliction of duty.**

Since then, the Moot Room has been used for a variety of things, many of them shady. If a corporate spy wishes to sell trade secrets without being arrested by undercover agents, he uses that room; but so too does a corporate whistleblower who wishes to speak to the press without worrying about a lawsuit from his company for breach of contract. Nobles have made treaties, planned assassinations, and yes, even plotted treason in Moot Rooms; and if the SPA overhears them, they are legally required not to report it and not act upon it.

There are very, very few extenuating circumstances in which the SPA may legally intervene, and these ethical questions have been puzzled over for centuries like Rabbis dissecting the Talmud. Broadly speaking (because there are always exceptions), these circumstances are:
  1. If someone has been brought into the room against their will.
  2. If there is a clear and immediate threat to the starport and/or the planet (an invasion does not count, but the potential release of a bioweapon does).
  3. If a party who entered via one door exits another door without conscious consent. 
If these conditions are not met, then whatever happens behind those doors is covered under the political version of the Seal of Confession.***

This has led to some rather interesting uses of the room for matters of honor. Several impromptu duels have been held inside a Moot Room, and in at least one case, a bit of expeditious justice involving a slaver being tricked inside only to be beaten to death by a family member of the enslaved.

On the whole, it helps more than it hurts. It facilitates communication and trade, which is the backbone of the Imperium. In addition, the starport makes a tidy profit from running a Moot Room; rates start as low as 50 Cr/hour for a shed and up to 1000 Cr/hour for the truly fancy accommodations
Sidebar: Smuggling

Of course someone is going to try to use the Moot Room's "absolute freedom" to smuggle something in past customs. That's to be expected. And yes, while inside the room the SPA can't do anything about it.

However, once the intrepid smuggler exits the room, he crosses the XT line. That means he can be searched for contraband outside of the protection of the Moot Room, and be prosecuted for smuggling if such is found.

This also makes Moot Rooms handy ways for people to surrender illegal items (like Ancient artifacts or military-grade weapons) without fear of arrest. Simply rent the room, carry your item inside, and leave it behind for either the SPA or whomever you met with to deal with. You're allowed to have it inside the room, and if you don't have it when you leave... why then, you're free to go, citizen. 

Legal Footnotes

*  The SPA will happily scan anyone going into the room for weapons, or recording devices, or whatever else the parties demand. They are facilitators and gatekeepers for the Moot Room, and don't care what anyone takes in so long as both parties agree -- but see Smuggling, above, for what people are allowed to take out.

** Some restrictive governments won't allow their citizens to use the Moot Room, of course, and so they place legal (or literal) barricades to entry, but as long as that occurs on the home planet's side of the XT line, the SPA doesn't care.

*** Which is the big reason why SPA scans for recording devices when asked; there are volumes of legal treatises involving "I recorded this guy without his consent, and he confessed to an Imperial Crime within the Moot Room, and then I made it public to ruin his image/ blackmail him/ get the authorities after him."  The short version is that most Moot Rooms have distinctive visual cues and the better ones are able to embed "This is the [System Name] Starport Moot Room" into the background hiss of the sound suppression system and likely microdotted into the walls, meaning that it's very easy to determine if the conversation is admissible in court. If it's not admissible, then the party responsible for releasing the recording can be prosecuted under Imperial Law for violating the privacy of the room.

How is that possible?  Again, anything inside the Moot Room is legal, but you need to leave sometime. And when you do, you enter either Imperial Space or the local system -- both of which are beholden to Imperial Law. If you break the seal of the Moot Room without exceptionally good reason, you're in trouble.

If you are getting the impression that the Imperium really values privacy, you are correct. It's almost as if it's based upon secrets and lies...

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