Trial by jury

Trial by jury - its covenant roots are ancient

A tricky matter
In ancient covenant life, what would happen if a lord (in a family covenant setting) had a case that was too difficult for him to handle? For example, his wife might have come across a tricky matter involving the purchase of some land that she had her eye on. She would have brought the issue to her husband's attention: she kept him informed, asked for his advice and in this case, would bring this legal matter before him. This was her request or: her petition.

Higher up
Let's suppose that her husband, having checked the law with all its relevant statutes, couldn't find the answer. Now he needed advice from someone higher up who had more knowledge and experience: his own father, or perhaps an uncle who was his lord, master and judge. Unfortunately, his father or uncle couldn't solve the issue either. It was time for the next step, which was to bring the petition to the clan leader, who then passed it on all the way up the covenant hierarchy. It was a time consuming and inefficient procedure. And this was exactly what happened in the days of the Exodus, when the descendants of Abraham, the fledgling nation of Israel, were being re-educated in matters of covenant law.

Moses had instructed and taught husbands and lords of households what they needed to know to teach and apply the law within their own families. However, it didn't take long for these novice covenant people to come across the practical problem as described above. It resulted in a huge bottleneck. Moses, the High Judge, was overwhelmed.

The solution was to set up a separate court for these special cases: a court of specialists, who could take on these complex questions of law. Where necessary, they could set a precedent with instructions for future similar cases. Moses' father-in-law was the man with enough experience and skills to set up this special court. But who was going to sit as judges?

Body of expertise
The tribes and families were asked to put forward the names of heads of households - lords who enjoyed a flawless reputation: men with a name of being righteous and fair, immune to corruption, who knew God's laws and who were loved and trusted by their own people. These pre-selected lords were brought before Moses, who had the authority from God to approve and authorise this new court of law. Their brief was to provide support to the lords and husbands of Israel when cases were too difficult for them to judge by themselves. The heads of households were still sovereign, but now they were able to turn to an authorised and knowledgeable body of expertise when necessary. The problem was solved, and the bottleneck was cleared. The pre-selected lords had been approved and sworn in, and things were running smoothly again.

Organising life in town
Forty years later the Israelites entered their promised land. Society now took on a new rhythm. Heads of households had to start organising their new lands as well as their people. Productivity soared. Their covenant ways of functioning proved to be extremely effective when they lived on their farms and manors, but how could they organise life in their new villages and towns?

The answer was simple: each town now had its own court of law, organised in the same way as the specialist court of selected and sworn in lords. The same requirements applied as for the original court of expertise: the judges had to be equal in standing and legal skills. Together they would cooperate, investigate and discuss each matter before passing a joint verdict. They became the council of elders, regulating the affairs of the town, and had their public meetings in the city gate where all legal matters between lords were conducted.

This system of a separate court with lords of equal standing was designed to
  • provide support and expertise in a covenant setting where the lord and master of a household was unable to come to a decision on his own
  • provide a court of law in a setting where people had to live and function together outside the immediate jurisdiction of their own sovereignty.
Today's system of trial by jury is a remnant of this ancient court of expertise. In other courts, we still call our judges 'lord'. Their equals are called 'peers'. We refer to the admission to this circle as 'receiving a peerage'.


c. 1300, "an equal in rank or status" (early 13c. in Anglo-Latin), from Anglo-French peir, Old French per (10c.), from Latin par "equal"...
"set number of persons, selected according to law and sworn to determine the facts and truth of a case or charge submitted to them and render a verdict," early 14c. (late 12c. in Anflo-Latin), from Anglo-French juree (13c.), from Medieval Latin jurata "an oath, a judicial inquest, sworn body of men," ... Latin iurare "to swear," from ius "law, an oath"...
1530s, alteration of Middle English verdit (c. 1300), "a jury's decision in a case," from Anglo-French verdit (Old French voirdit) "sworn testimony, affidavit; judgment, written record of a verdict," literally "a true saying or report," from ver, veir "true" + dit, past participle of dire "to say"...
early 14c., "a supplication or prayer, especially to a deity," from Old French peticion "request, petition" (12c., Modern French p├ętition) and directly from Latin petitionem ... in law " a claim, suit"...

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