Jury Vetting in the Seventeenth Century

Juries are generally believed to be the collective voice of free-born Englishmen, but in the aftermath of Civil War the system was at the centre of debate about the effective governance of England.

Trial by jury, for so long regarded as the keystone of the English common law, has never been far from the centre of debate on the nature of justice, the liberties of the individual and the power of the State. Since disclosures made during an Official Secrets Act trial in 1978 raised the subject of 'jury-vetting', public discussion has centred on the legitimacy of jury control. In this short survey another age of jury-vetting will be explored. In the mid-seventeenth century civil liberty, judicial development and an increasingly powerful executive at central and local levels were likely to clash head-on. Judicial decisions were shaping the role and drawing the limits of juries. Lawyers offered professional views of. the future of the institution and in the aftermath of the Civil War, in the tense and highly charged atmosphere of political expectation so vividly invoked by Christopher Hill, the jury found a prominent coign in the platforms of those who sought fundamental social change. Away from the turbulence of the high courts and the excitement of the London publishing world the jury system exercised those whose chief concern was effectively to rule the countryside.

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