Free and Equal: Rawls' Theory of Justice and Political Reform

By Joseph Grcic | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4. EMPOWER THE JURY

“A jury is a group of people who will judge you but were not
smart enough to avoid jury duty.”

—Anonymous

Skepticism about the jury system is as old as the jury itself but do we want to get rid of it, keep it as is or reform it? A look at the history of this controversial institution may shed some light.

The origins of trial by jury are go as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and the Magna Carta of 1215 which further institutionalized the idea of a trial by one’s peers. The right to a jury trial gradually replaced the medieval system of trial by ordeal where the accused faced some physical challenge such as attempted drowning, burning at the stake or an actual battle with an opponent. The will of God was said to be revealed in these trials where the deity would protect the innocent from death or serious harm. The replacement of the trial by ordeal by trial by jury represented the growth of the ideal of equality, the greater empowerment of the people, a limit on autocratic political power and a more rational judicial system but, it will be argued, this development has not gone far enough in the direction of democratic participation.

In the early stages of the development of the trial, the jury was not to serve silently. In its nascent stage, the jury was selected from the local community where the alleged crime occurred and was to

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