Was the Jury Ever Self-Informing?
34 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2001 Last revised: 19 Dec 2014
Date Written: 2001
Until recently, there was a consensus that the medieval English jury was self-informing. That is, unlike the modern jury, the medieval jury based its verdict primarily on evidence it gathered, learned, or knew before trial. Recently, this consensus has been questioned by historians who argue that medieval jurors often had insufficient knowledge to convict without in-court witness testimony. This essay bolsters the consensus view that medieval jurors in criminal trials were self-informing by marshalling a wide array of new primary source evidence. It also shows, however, that some witnesses testified in medieval trials. Nevertheless, it argues that the appearance of witnesses does not undermine the idea that the jury was self-informing, because such witnesses appeared rarely and usually testified about collateral matters rather than about the defendant's guilt or innocence.
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