A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.

ROBERT FROST (1874-1963)


Mysterious Juries

Very little is known about how juries operate in this country, a situation not improved by the fact that the 1981 Contempt of Court Act actually bans any research into them. There is no definitive research, for instance, on how representative juror selection is, whether jurors comprehend evidence and judicial directions, or how they reach their verdicts.
In the 18th century, it was common practice for the Crown to ‘pack’ juries, using the services of more-or-less full-time jurors. These would hang out in pubs near the Old Bailey until called and were naturally sympathetic to their employer, the government.

In the 19th century, attempts to reform this began with jury selection by ‘pricking’. This involved the Master of the Crown Office taking a book of 8,000 names of men qualified to sit on juries, and randomly stabbing his (dry) pen nib into the closed pages. He would then open the book, and choose the jury from those whose names had been marked by the prickings.

In Ancient Greece, the normal size of a jury was about 500 people.


My parents wanted me to be a lawyer. But I don't think I would have been very happy. I'd be in front of the jury singing.

In Middle English 'sad' meant 'wise' hence juries were said to comprise of 'sad men'.

Eligibility for Jury Duty

It surprises many people to learn that until 1974 most married women were not eligible for jury duty. The reason was that there was a property qualification, and as most houses occupied by married couples were in the name of the husband, their wives didn’t qualify. Nor did anybody who lived in a rented house with fewer than 15 windows, come to that – ruling out anybody (of either sex) who lived in a council house.
The right of Peers to be tried by their peers for felonies was abolished in 1948. In 1901, the second Earl Russell (Bertrand Russell’s brother) was convicted of bigamy by 500 of his peers and served three months before getting a Royal pardon.
Very few juries know about (or are informed of) their right to ‘jury nullification’. This is the de factopower to deliver a verdict that runs contrary to the letter of the law. It might occur when a jury agrees that the defendant has broken a particular law, but does not believe in the justness of that law. It is the right - and, some would argue, duty - of every juror to acquit that defendant.
The present qualifications for jury service are set out in the Juries Act 1974. To be eligible, a person must be:

  • Aged between 18 and 70.

  • Registered to vote – as a parliamentary or local government elector.

  • Resident in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least five years since their 13th birthday.

  • They must not be a mentally disordered person, or disqualified from jury service.

More than 90% of all jury trials in the world occur in the United States.

Trial by Jury?

Modern Courtrooms seldom have judges or juries present. Well over 90% of all criminal cases are non-jury trials and heard by magistrates alone. Only the most serious criminal offences reach the Crown Court for trial by jury. The only other criminal cases that may be tried by a jury are so-called ‘either way’ offences. In these, provided the defendant and the magistrate agree, the case may either be dealt with swiftly there and then, or referred upwards to the Crown Court for a jury trial. Just over 30,000 cases that could be tried by a jury reach the Crown Courts a year, but only just over half of them get to the stage where the jury is actually called upon to reach a verdict.
The absolute right to trial by jury was enshrined in English Law by Magna Carta in 1215, but this was overturned by the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It allows prosecutors to apply for a non-jury trial in cases where the jury has been tampered with.  On 18 June 2009 the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, became the first judge to order such a trial.


When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of Jury Duty.

The constitution of the state of Texas allows discrimination against atheists chosen for jury duty.

GROUCHO MARX (1890-1977)

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.

Juror's expenses include a return ticket on public transport and £5.71 for lunch.