> DIL s.v. "fo·gní" gives the legal maxim "ni·fognai lam
> laim", glossed as ".i. ni fognand lam ... do laim" and
> translated as "hand does not serve hand".
> (DIL F 237.31-3; Laws i 228.16)
> What does this mean?
This maxim is one of two cited in the text on the legal process of
distraint (Cetharshlicht Athgabálae), by which property is impounded as
a means of forcing someone to offer a legal settlement. Both maxims are
cited to explain why in some circumstances there is no period of delay
('anad', stay) between the giving of notice and the impounding of the
objects in question.
The two maxims are discussed by DA Binchy in his article on 'Distraint
in Irish law': Celtica 10 (1973) 22-71 at pages 53-54. Binchy was a
little too inclined to view the compilers of Brehon law tracts as
struggling in waters well beyond their depth. So he is quite comfortable
asserting that neither maxim is at all relevant as an explanation for
distraint without a stay. The compiler, he says, "has simply wrenched
two ancient maxims out of their context in order to bolster up a
fictitious basis of differentiation. Both of them were doubtless
originally proverbs of general application. 'Hand is not subject to
hand' may mean that no freeman is bound to perform any service for
There is a sizeable section of glossing on this maxim, offering various
explanations as to how it fits the context of distraint without a stay.
But Binchy is unimpressed by any of it.