Conor Hanly, ‘Jury Selection in Victorian England’

The process of empanelling a jury in nineteenth-century England was controlled in most of the country by the County Juries Act 1825. At a formal level, the process was orderly and followed three stages: the preparation of a jury panel from the county jurors’ books, the summoning of the men on the jury panel, and the selection of the trial jury from the panel. In practice, the county sheriffs and undersheriffs were able to exert some influence on the process, an influence that at times ran directly contrary to legislative requirements, and sometimes was even corrupt. Contemporaries complained continually about these informal practices, and their impact upon the perceived quality of the trial juries. This article examines each of the three stages in the jury selection process, including both the legislative requirements and the implementation of those requirements, and it charts the complaints made by contemporaries. The article also attempts to assess some of these complaints by reference to archival materials from the counties of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. Some of these complaints were well-founded, but others – especially the alleged removal from the jurors’ books of men who qualified as special jurors – appear to have been overstated. Nevertheless, the influence of the sheriffs and undersheriffs is clear, and justified or not, the dissatisfaction with the quality of jurors may have contributed to the decline in the use of jury trial over the course of the nineteenth century.

Conor Hanly, Jury Selection in Victorian England, American Journal of Legal History, Volume 61, Issue 1, March 2021, pages 36-55, Published: 30 June 2021.

First posted 2021-07-17 14:00:17

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