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Hold up your heads, jurors


11th century drawing, artist unknown, in Share the Inheritance (see sidebar).

The recent badmouthing of the Vicky Pryce jury by a know-it-all judge is not a cause for rejoicing.

Is a jury member so terribly dumb if he or she wonders what is reasonable and what is doubt? Really, he sounds ripe for a talk with Socrates.

Another question, why the frenzy about jurors trying to learn more about the accused by going online? We understand the concern, but once jurors were local people who knew their local criminals. They knew who was moving land markers to gain more land for himself or beating his wife when she refused to confess to his crime. In a way, the internet provides the local information which jurors today lack because communities have grown so big.

Jury trials are a priceless innovation. They arose out of communities in England designing apps for the design platform of Common Law.

One such community was Bury St Edmunds. In the 11th century, the neighbours of a farmer by the name of Ketel were outraged when he was tried and executed by high and mighty authorities. They knew he was innocent and they quickly established trial by jury in Bury St Edmunds. The idea of jury trials continued to spread, they were enshrined in Magna Carta, and we have all gained, even when we don't know it.

Juries decide guilt and innocence based on evidence and logic, not torture. They work in public rather than in secret. And, as Thomas Jefferson wrote Thomas Paine (see Share the Inheritance sidebar), they are a bulwark against tyrannical government. They can nullify an oppressive law by refusing to convict.

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