In modern democracies, serving on a jury is the most common form of institutionalized public participation outside of voting. Due process and trial by a jury of one's peers are both central democratic principles.
Problems and Purpose
In most modern day democracies, serving on a jury is a common form of institutionalized public participation. Formally introduced with the Magna Carta in 1251, due process and trial by a jury of one's peers are now central democratic principles.
Background History and Context
The assignation of citizens to a jury of law dates back to pre-Norman times. It was not until the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 that ideas of due process and trial by a jury of peers (as opposed to court- or King-appointed noble or free men) came into being.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Know who organized or funded this initiative? Help us complete this section!
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Modern day juries are typically made up of 12 persons randomly selected from the general population.
Methods and Tools Used
This is an example of the Court Jury Procedure.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The most famous use of the court jury in a manner roughly equivalent to that used in modern-day democracies occurred in London in 1670. The defendant, William Penn was arrested for 'unlawful and tumultuous assembly'. The court at Old Bailey decided that he broke the common law, which he was trialed for. Penn argued that if it was a common law then it isn’t common because he didn’t know about the law. Several witnesses testified that Penn did preach and based on eyewitness testimony, the jury was sent to deliberate. Several times, Penn tried to interrupt and object to witnesses and juries but he was sent out of the room.
The jury couldn’t agree that Penn was guilty by giving a speech on the street. The court sent them back three times in order to deliberate and convict Penn of guilt. Each time, the jury would come to a not guilty verdict. The judge got so furious that he sent them back until they reached a verdict that the court would accept. The judge sent them back to the room without any food, drinks, tobacco or fire. Jurors still came out with not guilty verdict, so the judge then sent them to jail and to pay 40 marks. They would be released when they paid their fines. The jurors were sitting together with Penn in one cell. William Penn was sent to jail for contempt of court. Later, one of the jurors, Bushell, filed a lawsuit over his imprisonment and won. It was the Bushell lawsuit that overthrew English’s Court custom to discipline jurors of what Court thought was a wrong verdict.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Juries provide a verdict after hearing testimony. They are not required to give reasoning for their verdict as it is assumed that "[i]n acting as fact-finders in a criminal trial, jurors, like judges, bring into the jury room the totality of their knowledge and personal experiences, and their deliberations benefit from the combined experiences and perspectives of all of the jurors. One juror may remember a detail of the evidence that another forgot, or may be able to answer a question that perplexes another juror. Through the group decision-making process, the evidence and its significance can be comprehensively discussed in the effort to reach a unanimous verdict."
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Justice Cory of the Supreme Court of Canada gives an excellent analysis of the jury's importance to democracy and the pressures it faces in R.M.G v Her Majesty the Queen (1996):
"13 The jury system is clearly a significant factor in many democratic regimes. This is emphatically true in Canada. It is extremely important to our democratic society that jurors as representatives of their community may make the decision as to the guilt or innocence of the accused before the court based solely on the evidence presented to them. There is a centuries-old tradition of juries reaching fair and courageous verdicts. That tradition has taken root and been so well and fearlessly maintained that it has flourished in this country. Our courts have very properly stressed the importance of jury verdicts and the deference that must be shown to those decisions. Today, as in the past, great reliance has been placed upon those decisions. That I think flows from the public awareness that 12 members of the community have worked together to reach a unanimous verdict.
14 In reaching a verdict, jurors have heeded the wisdom of the prophet Isaiah whose advocacy of a reasoned approach to solving problems has echoed through the ages in the moving and memorable words “Come now, and let us reason together . . .”: Isaiah 1:18. Of course, it is the great strength and virtue of the jury system that members of the community have indeed come together and reasoned together in order to reach their unanimous verdict. It is truly a magnificent system for reaching difficult decisions in criminal cases. It has proven itself in the centuries past and continues to do so today. Yet, this system is fragile.
15 If the process is subjected to unwarranted pressures, or to unnecessary distractions, the delicate reasoning process may be thwarted. The sole task of a jury is to reach a verdict based exclusively on the evidence presented. The sturdy independence of jurors may be overcome and unanimity compelled by a judge’s suggestion that irrelevant factors be considered or by the judge’s exerting unwarranted pressure. In those circumstances, the verdict may no longer be based on a reasoned approach to the evidence. It follows that the instructions given to an apparently deadlocked jury must be delicately balanced and carefully crafted. If they are not, the jury system as a bulwark of democracy will all too easily be breached. The importance and significance of the instructions or exhortation to an apparently deadlocked jury cannot be overemphasized. The jurors at this stage are tired, probably frustrated and certainly disgruntled. They have given so much of their time and laboured so hard with the difficult issues that they are entitled to a careful and balanced instruction."
 "Magna Carta," U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs, https://web-archive-2017.ait.org.tw/infousa/zhtw/DOCS/whatsdem/whatdm10.htm
 Ben Darlow, "History of Trial by Jury," English Legal History, 06/10/2013, https://englishlegalhistory.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/history-of-trial-by...
 "Jury Definition," Duhaime's Law Dictionary, http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/J/Jury.aspx
 R. v. Pan; R. v. Sawyer,  2 SCR 344, 2001 SCC 42 (CanLII), http://canlii.ca/t/5203
 R. v. G. (R.M.),  3 SCR 362, 1996 CanLII 176 (SCC), http://canlii.ca/t/1fr7s>,
"Jury Definition," Duhaime's Law Dictionary, http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/J/Jury.aspx