An Old Testament To The Potential Humanity of Juries

I remember a Customs Inspector once mentioned that a remarkable number of arriving visitors turned in customs declarations that estimated the value of goods acquired as coming in just below the taxable limit.

A much older instance of the same phenomena appears to have been at work in olde England, where stealing 40 shillings or more meant death by hanging; anything less would merit transportation, but leave the convict alive.

Per Kathy Lette in the Daily Telegraph:

In those brutal times, justice came with strings attached – you dangled from the gallows if you stole more than 40 shillings-worth of someone else’s property. If less, your sentence was transportation beyond the seas. And it was the jury that did the valuing.

Riffling through the criminal records of these First Fleeters, it’s astonishing how many were convicted of stealing goods to the value of 39 shillings, goods that their indignant owners estimated to be worth hundreds of pounds. It was the jury’s sense of mercy that filled the prisons with people the politicians had wanted to hang, and forced the government, when the American colonies rebelled, to look for another dumping ground for the human debris of Georgian England.

Pakistan’s justice system is broken, perhaps beyond all redemption, but I think some form of jury system – perhaps a panel of laiety to assist the judge – would be a welcome innovation.

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