Timeline Description: The first evidence of the jury system is in Aristotle's descriptions of Athenian law, written around 350 BCE. Later, the Norwegian system of things, or courts, influenced English and Scottish law. The modern jury system first developed in English common law, and it gradually spread to other Western European countries throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. England implemented the jury system in its colonies, as well, including the United States, Australia, and India.
|350 BC||Aristotle describes the Athenian jury system(c. 350 BCE).
In descriptions of the Athenian system of law, written around 350 BCE, Aristotle describes the use of a jury system. Jurors are selected at random and assigned to courts at the last minute, probably to prevent bribery, and after hearing the case from both sides, they cast their vote by dropping a ballot into one of two jars. Jurors are expected to know Athenian law already.
|950||Norway sets up a system of things(c. 950 CE).
Around 950 CE, Norway establishes a system of things, where farmers can set laws and convict people of breaking them. The main things are Borgarting, Eidsivating, Gulating and Frostating, but smaller courts exist throughout the country. These are some of the earliest instances of a jury system, and England and Scotland later adopt similar systems.
|997||Aethelred of England issues the Wantage Code.
In 997, King Aethelred of England issues the Wantage Code, an early English law code written in Old English. Using Scandinavian vocabulary, the code features perhaps the earliest description of a jury of presentment to decide cases, as well as regulations for trial by ordeal, which assumes God will intervene for the innocent.
|April 1155||Henry II of England reforms the government with an early jury system.
When Henry II ascends to the English throne, he reforms the Norman government by weakening the feudal ties of powerful English and Norman barons. Among other changes, he replaces local laws with a system of common law, which includes trial by jury. Previously, English courts used the old Germanic custom of trial by ordeal or battle.
|1166||The Assize of Clarendon establishes the jury system throughout England.
In 1166, Henry II sets forth a series of ordinances called the Assize of Clarendon that establish the jury system systematically throughout England. Aiming to improve criminal law procedures, the Assize creates the presenting (or grand) jury of 12 men in each hundred and 4 men in each township. This jury informs the King's judges of serious crimes committed in local districts. Jurors are supposed to collect information on the accusations before meeting.
|June 15, 1215||The Magna Carta establishes the right of a free man to a trial by his peers.
When King John signs into law the Magna Carta, he guarantees that no free man will be punished without "the lawful judgment of his peers." This guarantee restricts the judicial power of the king. While the jury system is already in use, the Magna Carta inspires later governments to see trial by jury as a basic right to protect citizens from arbitrary government.
|November 11, 1215||The Fourth Lateran Council bans trial by ordeal.
Pope Innocent III calls the Fourth Lateran Council to convene on November 11, 1215, and by the end of the council the church bans clerical participation in trial by ordeal. Without the church's sanction, trial by ordeal drops in use. Most of England now turns to the jury system, already in use in assizes.
|1275||First Statute of Westminster makes jury trial compulsory.
Edward I holds a parliament at Westminster and issues the first Statute of Westminster in 1275. This ordinance alters land law and makes trial by jury compulsory in criminal cases. The rest of Edward's ordinances amend the unwritten common law in England and remain active for much of the Middle Ages.
|November 1670||Bushel's Case determines that jurors cannot be punished for their verdict.
In November 1670, two Quakers, including William Penn, are arrested for unlawful assembly. In the subsequent trial, the jury submits a verdict of not guilty, and the judge demands jurors pay a fine for contempt of court. Juror Edward Bushel refuses to pay, and Penn protests that the decision violates the Magna Carta. In Bushel's subsequent petition for justice, the court rules that jurors cannot be punished for their verdict as long as they have acted properly.
|1733||A jury resists unfair laws in the trial of John Peter Zenger.
In 1733, German immigrant John Peter Zenger is accused of libel, for printing unflattering articles about the royal governor of the American colony of New York. In the subsequent trial, the jury returns a verdict of not guilty, in an attempt to protest the rule of an unfair governor. This trial also establishes the American right to freedom of the press.
|1798||Trial by jury is established in Germany.
Germany's first modern jury system is established in the Rhenish provinces in 1798, with a court of 12 citizens. As the monarchy takes power, this system is gradually pushed back in favor of a more tyrannical system of justice, where judges wield most of the power.
|March 12, 1804||The Napoleonic Code establishes jury trials in France.
The Napoleonic Code goes into effect on March 12, 1804, and establishes clearly written civil laws to replace feudal laws in France. The Code strongly influences other legal systems in developing countries. It supports jury trials (or petit jury), but avoids implementing a grand jury.