► The origin of the phrase dates back to the first century BCE. However, it was more of a general philosophical statement at that time rather than a technical legal term.
► In earlier times, only the “sky or heaven falling” part of the phrase was in use. One of the first noted occurrences of this phrase is in the famous Roman playwright Terrance’s writing. The Roman storyteller’s Aesop’s collection of fables includes a fable named The Sky is Falling.
► The noted Roman lyric poet Horace even uses the “falling sky” term in one of his odes to depict a hero submitting to the ruin of the world around him.
► However, it was Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist Seneca and his work regarding a legend that was attributed with the origin of the expression “fiat justitia ruat caelum.” In his work De Ira (On Anger), Seneca narrates a story of a Roman statesman Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. One day, in a fit of anger, Piso ordered the execution of a soldier. The soldier had returned alone from his leave without his comrade. Piso took this as a sign that the soldier had killed his comrade.
However, just before the execution, the lost comrade arrived at the scene. A centurion overseeing the execution stopped it, as the appearance of the comrade proved that the guilty soldier is actually innocent. The matter was presented before Piso again to suspend the execution orders. However, this made Piso so angry that he ordered three executions. He ordered the original execution of the soldier to be carried out as the order was already given. In addition to that, he ordered the death sentence to the centurion who did not carry out his job of overseeing the execution. The third order of execution was given to the comrade as he was supposed to be dead, and his return caused two innocent people to lose their lives.
Piso saw to it that “justice” be carried out even if it was morally wrong. Though the phrase “fiat justitia ruat caelum” does not appear explicitly in the story, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable attributes the negative interpretation of the story to the phrase.