Assessors, in ecclesiastical law, are learned persons whose function is to counsel a judge with whom they are associated in the trial of causes. They are called assessors because they sit beside (Lat. assidere) the judge. Assessors are required to examine documents, consult precedents, and in general explore the laws for points bearing on the cause at issue. A judge who is either overburdened with business or conscious of his inexperience in law cases may voluntarily associate assessors with himself, or they may be assigned to him by superior authority. Assessors are expected to be men beyond suspicion of partiality, whose learning is conceded. In case of an appeal against the judge’s actions or rulings, they are to be unexceptionable witnesses. As assessors are advisers of the judge, and not judges themselves they are not endowed with any jurisdiction. Neither do they bear a public character, but are present at trials in a private capacity. They may, however, take part in the examination of the accused or of witnesses. Owing to their nonjudicial character, laymen may be employed as Assessors in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters, though by the canons of the Church they would be incompetent as judges, even if a cleric were joined with them in a judicial capacity. As an Assessor is commonly looked upon as restraining in some manner the dignity, if not the jurisdiction, of the judge, the Sacred Congregations have declared that a cathedral chapter cannot impose an assessor on the Vicar-Capitular sede vacante.
WILLIAM H. W. FANNING