Jury trial

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The institution of trial by jury was ritually depicted by Aeschylus in the Eumenides, the third and final play of his Oresteia trilogy. In this play the innovation is brought about by the goddess Athena, who summons twelve citizens to sit as jury. The god Apollo takes part in the trial as the advocate for the defendant Orestes, and the Furies as prosecutors for the slain Clytaemnestra. In the event the jury is split six to six, and Athena dicates that in such a case the verdict should henceforth be for acquittal. It is thought that the reason Aeschylus chose to present trial by jury as conforming to divine will was because the institution was relatively new at the time the play was produced. Before then, trials were heard and decided upon by the Areopagus, a council of elders of aristocratic descent, who were members for life.


From the beginning, or who is less than thirty or more than sixty years of age, or who does not have his residence in the city of Rome or within one mile of it, or who is the father, brother, or son of any above-described magistrate, or who is the father, brother, or son of a person who is or has been a member of the Senate, or who is overseas.[10]

The connection between England and Rome goes back to the time of Julius Caesar, who conquered the southern part of the British Isles. How deep the imprint left by the Roman institutions on the Romanised Celts is difficult to determine. With the fall of the Roman empire and the following "barbarization" of the region, historians doubt that Roman customs and laws survived. The arrival of Roman institutions to England is more widely attributed to William the Conqueror and the Normans during times of greater interest in Roman law.[citation needed]


According to George Macaulay Trevelyan in A Shortened History of England, during the Viking occupation: “The Scandinavians, when not on the Viking warpath, were a litigious people and loved to get together in the ‘thing’ to hear legal argument. They had no professional lawyers, but many of their farmer-warriors, like Njal, the truth-teller, were learned in folk custom and in its intricate judicial procedure. A Danish town in England often had, as it principal officers, twelve hereditary ‘law men.’ The Danes introduced the habit of making committees among the free men in court, which perhaps made England favorable ground for the future growth of the jury system out of a Frankish custom later introduced by the Normans.” The English king Ethelred the Unready set up an early legal system through the Wantage Code of Ethelred, one provision of which stated that the twelve leading thegns (minor nobles) of each wapentake (a small district) were required to swear that they would investigate crimes without a bias. These juries differed from the modern sort by being self-informing; instead of getting information through a trial, the jurors were required to investigate the case themselves.[11]

In the 12th century, Henry II took a major step in developing the jury system. Henry II set up a system to resolve land disputes using juries. A jury of twelve free men were assigned to arbitrate in these disputes. As with the Saxon system, these men were charged with uncovering the facts of the case on their own rather than listening to arguments in court. Henry II also introduced what is now known as the "grand jury" through his Assize of Clarendon. Under the assize, a jury of free men was charged with reporting any crimes that they knew of in their hundred to a "justice in eyre," a judge who moved between hundreds on a circuit. A criminal accused by this jury was given a trial by ordeal.

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