Supreme Court of Tasmania


HISTORY OF THE JURY

On 1 January 2006 the Juries Act 2003 came into force and repealed the Jury Act 1899. The information on the Jurors pages of this site is being rewritten to reflect the changes brought in by the new Act.

Origins

There is considerable uncertainty as to the origins of the jury system. It is probably that the institution of the jury may be traced from Norman times as a means of eliciting information on behalf of the king. By the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) in England, when possession of land was in dispute, a litigant would seek the Royal Original Writ of novel disseisin summoning a jury to decide upon the issue in dispute. A jury was summoned from the local area and the first litigant to gather 12 jurors won the dispute.The jurors had the function of swearing (from the French jurer) on behalf of one or other of the litigants.

Also during the reign of Henry II the jury of presentment (accusation) was introduced. Jurors were appointed to report crimes committed by their neighbours and this was later known as the Grand Jury by the Assize of Clarendon, 1166.

With the abolition of trial by ordeal in 1215, the process of the jury became more commonplace. However the jury was not the impartial body that we are familiar with today, as it consisted of people conversant with the issue. Gradually the practice became that informed and knowledgeable people would act as witnesses and non-specialists would form the jury. This was the beginnings of the modern day idea of the jury, that of an impartial group of people who would hear the evidence and arguments of counsel and a summing up by the judge before deciding all issues of act by the pronouncement of their verdict.

Development

By the Statute of Westminster I 1275, the accused person was to be kept in a "hard" prison until he accepted trial by jury. Often acceptance was encouraged by placing weights of iron upon the body of the accused.

Some centuries later, in 1772, the plea of peine forte et dure was replaced by a plea of guilty. By this a prisoner was similarly loaded with weights until he made a plea (or died) so that the jury trial could commence.

There were special problems with the jury in some courts, such as the Star Chamber, which often took it upon themselves to punish, by fines and imprisonment, jurors who gave dishonest or perverse verdicts. It was not until 1670 that it was decided that judges could not punish jurors who persistently acquitted the accused. Finally, in 1827, an accused who did not plead or refused to plead had a plea of not guilty entered on his behalf.

Beginning of the modern system

By the Juries Act 1825 (UK), a system to standardise the selection of jurors was introduced. Age limits of between 21 and 60 years of age and a basic level of property ownership were introduced as qualifications for jurors. In Tasmania property qualifications for jurors persisted until 1957 (₤20 income from real or personal estate, ₤500 from real or personal estate or ₤100 per annum). The same English 1825 Act also restricted large numbers of professional people from serving:

  • peers of the realm;
  • members of Parliament;
  • judges;
  • clergymen;
  • Roman Catholic priests;
  • non-confirmists;
  • legal professionals;
  • medical professionals;
  • servicemen; and
  • justices of the peace.

In 1957 in Tasmania property qualifications were abolished and general qualifications were introduced that jurors could be anyone between 25 to 65 if entered on the Electoral Roll.