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The Riojier Commonwealth is one of the few states that has managed to remain independent even during the height of High Imperium expansion. It is centered on the Riojier System, and though hard data on all its holdings is difficult to come by, it is made up of at least thirty habitable worlds and probably three or four times that many research, resource extraction and industrial systems.
The systems of the Commonwealth are are largely self-governing, but with unified political and judicial systems. The central government, the Council of the Commonwealth, is not a legislative body in the sense that the Imperial Congress is, but is rather a council of state with members holding both executive and legislative powers. The Speaker is the technical head of government, though it is not clear just how much power that entails as the means by which the Council of the Commonwealth passes legislation is not known. Even succession is controlled by the Council, which retains the right to choose replacements from any member of the Citizen’s class.
Each of the habitable planets has a planetary legislature, headed by a Prime Minister. These legislatures are responsible for all internal affairs, though there is some legislation that ensures protection of the class system as well as delivery of half the taxes gathered being sent on to to the Commonwealth government.
The justice system is split between the three classes, with each class having its own civil, criminal and appellate courts. These courts are administered by judges and lawyers drawn from the class, and for the Serfs, these individuals make up a professional subclass, with some privileges greater than that of the average Serf. All sentences are passed down by judges, and there is no jury system in the Commonwealth.
In the case of a crime committed by a member of one class agains another, the higher court always hears the case. In civil actions, a member of a lower class must find a representative from the higher class willing to take on the case, for it is forbidden in the civil courts for a member of a lower class to appear in a higher court.
One crime is an exception to the others, and that is High Treason. When someone from any of the classes is charged with High Treason, the Council of the Commonwealth will convene a special tribunal to determine guilt or innocence. There is no appeal, and if found guilty the person is immediately executed.
For lesser crimes the planetary legislatures have nearly total control. Most crimes involve either a substantial fine or imprisonment. Save where a judge decides that there is a substantial risk to society, the convicted individual may actually pay a fine in lieu of a prison sentence. For most Plebeians and virtually all Serfs this is almost never likely to be an option.
The population of the Commonwealth is divided by law into three classes; Citizens, Plebeians and Serfs. Each class has its responsibilities and rights, clearly defined and rigidly adhered to. As well, each class has its own courts.
As stated about, only Citizens are eligible to be promoted to the Council of the Commonwealth. Only Citizens can run for office in the planetary legislatures. A Citizen must, upon reaching the age of majority, must spend a minimum of three standard years in one of the branches of the armed forces as an active member. As well, Citizens must pay a quarter of their annual income in taxes. Citizens can own and freely sell their property[–‘^1^’–].
The Plebeians cannot run for seats in the planetary legislatures, but they can vote. Plebeians must serve a minimum of five years in the military, though this can be as a member of reserve units. Plebeians are permitted to own property, but selling it requires the permission of a court. Plebeians must give one fifth of their annual income in taxes. A Plebeian can, if he aquires sufficient wealth, buy his children into the Citizens Class, though he must remain a Plebeian.
The Serf class is likely to be viewed by most people in the Imperium as a slave class. They cannot own property, and must either indenture themselves to a Citizen or directly to the government. They have no voting rights, but are protected by strictly enforced laws against abuse, and must be given a reasonable and dignified residence for their families. By the same token, they do not have to pay taxes, nor do they have to join the armed forces, though in times of war they may be drafted, and in this way be promoted to a Plebeian.
The Commonwealth’s early history is somewhat murky. The origins of the class system seem to come from even before the Decline, when the Riojier System was dominated by wealthy land owners who divided those beneath them into different classes to ensure both production and a stable and reasonably healthy workforce.
For the entirety of the Decline, the Commonwealth was limited to the Riojier System, and it wasn’t until the infamous Quixotic Maelstrom incident that the Commonwealth even became aware that interstellar travel was again possible. Using the captured technology, the Commonwealth threw itself into becoming an interstellar power. To build up the armed forces it opened up military service to the Plebeians, and even made allowances for a draft of the Serfs. A period of expansion ensued which saw the Commonwealth grow into an interstellar state.
Even then, the Commonwealth might have been unknown to this day, if it had not been for the Anathazi-M’nru, which through a massive failure of its hop computer, jumped into Imperium space and was captured. It was good fortune that this happened during the period of the later Tawmerik emperors, and the Imperium was more willing to accomodate a foreign power than during the next, more expansionist dynasty. Never the less, the Commonwealth did not stand still and at great expense, only balanced by trade with the Imperium, it built a rather large interstellar navy.
It was not until the reign of Ivan Dabrian, however, that the Commonwealth and the Imperium signed a treaty and formalized diplomatic relations.