Difference between Sentence and Decree
- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On August 6, 2016
There is a difference between “sentence” and “decree.” A definitive sentence is a judgment which brings the case to a close by deciding for or against the central claim. An interlocutory decree (aka, interlocutory judgment) is a judgment which brings to a close some tangential question which has been raised. Such a decree can be simply part of the larger case, or it can be its own case. If it is its own case, then you say that the decree has the force of a definitive sentence (see canon 1618).
For example, a petitioner puts forward the claim “my marriage was invalid.” This is investigated through a judicial process which climaxes in a definitive sentence: “yes, the marriage was invalid.” However, then the respondent puts forward a claim: “the process to declare the marriage invalid was itself invalid.” This is investigated through a judicial process which climaxes in a decree having the force of a definitive sentence: “yes, the process was invalid and it needs to start all over again.” This latter judgment did not decide the principle claim, i.e., whether the marriage was invalid, and so it is called a decree.
The Roman Rota hears both types of cases.