Jury: Legal Meaning, Role and Composition

Legal Definition of Jury

A jury is a group of individuals, typically drawn from the general population, who are selected and sworn in by a court to deliberate and render a verdict on a legal matter presented before them during a trial.


When we envision the legal system, there is an element that often stands out as a unique blend of tradition, justice, and democracy: the jury. Its origins, concept, significance, and the critical role it plays in upholding justice, is fascinating and deeply rooted in many legal traditions.

A Historical Glance of Jury

Its origins trace back to ancient civilisations. The Ancient Greeks, for instance, had a system where large panels of citizens decided certain legal matters.

Meanwhile, in England, the early medieval period witnessed the evolution of the jury from a group bearing witness to incidents to the fact-finding body we recognise today.

Over centuries, this system was refined, shaped by legal precedents, societal needs, and changing perceptions of justice. It became a cornerstone of the common law tradition, gradually spread to other parts of the world, particularly to countries within the British Empire.

Why a Jury? The Rationale

Why, one might wonder, do we entrust such a crucial role in the justice system to ordinary individuals without formal legal training? The answer lies in democracy and fairness.

  • Democratic Participation: The jury system ensures that the community plays a direct role in the administration of justice. It embodies the democratic principle that power, including judicial power, should lie with the people.
  • Protection Against Arbitrary Law: Historically, juries have acted as a buffer against oppressive laws or their arbitrary application. If a jury finds a law unjust, they can, in theory, refuse to convict – a process known as jury nullification.
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Composition and Selection

The constitution and characteristics of jury vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Typically, member of jury are summoned and then subjected to a selection process. Both the prosecution and defence have a say during this phase, ensuring an unbiased and representative group.

This process is crucial. The chosen members must be impartial, with no prior knowledge of the case, ensuring that their judgment will be based solely on the evidence presented during the trial.

The Jury Deliberation Process

Once the trial concludes, the group retreats to discuss and contemplate the evidence. Their aim is to reach a unanimous decision, though some jurisdictions might allow for majority verdicts. During this phase, they review evidence, deliberate, and weigh the credibility of witnesses.

The lack of legal training among these individuals might seem like a disadvantage, but it’s quite the opposite. They bring a fresh perspective, unclouded by legal technicalities, and judge based on common sense and societal standards.

The Role of Jury in Ensuring Justice

One might ask: Why not leave the decision-making entirely to the trained professionals? Why involve citizens at all?

The answer lies in the balance of power. By allowing the community a say in the justice system, it acts as a check and balance against potential judicial overreach. Furthermore, the presence of these peers humanises the often mechanical process of the justice system.

Their involvement ensures that legal decisions are grounded in the realities and values of the community.

What Safeguards Are In Place To Ensure That A Jury Isn’t Influenced By External Biases Or Media Coverage?

The jury selection process, or “voir dire,” allows attorneys to question potential jurors about biases and dismiss those deemed partial. Judges can issue “gag orders” preventing public commentary on ongoing trials. Jurors receive specific instructions not to discuss or research the case, or consume related media.

In high-profile cases, juries can be sequestered, isolating them from external influences. Additionally, judges provide jurors with guidelines on evaluating evidence, ensuring decisions are based on presented facts rather than external opinions.

Violating these rules can result in juror dismissal or legal consequences.

How Can The Justice System Guarantee That A Jury Is Truly Representative Of A Cross-Section Of The Community?

The justice system employs random selection from broad pools, such as voter or driver registries, ensuring a diverse initial pool. Jury summonses are designed to reach a wide demographic. During “voir dire,” the jury selection process, attorneys scrutinise potential biases, but rules also prevent exclusion based on race or gender.

Legal standards, like the Batson challenge, counteract racially motivated juror exclusions. Despite these measures, full representation remains complex due to economic, cultural, or personal barriers some citizens face when called to serve.

What’s The History And Rationale Behind The Concept Of A “Grand Jury”?

The grand jury, with roots in medieval England, was formalised in the Magna Carta (1215) to protect citizens from unjust accusations and overreach of royal power. Introduced to America during colonial times, it became a safeguard in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Unlike a trial jury determining guilt, a grand jury reviews evidence to decide if there’s probable cause for formal charges.

Comprising 16-23 members, they act as a filter, ensuring the state’s power isn’t abused. This secretive process protects witnesses, shields the accused if exonerated, and allows for a thorough, uninfluenced examination of preliminary evidence.


While this system has many advantages, it is not without its critics. Some argue that ordinary citizens may be easily swayed by skilled attorneys or might not fully grasp complex legal matters.

However, proponents argue that these concerns are outweighed by the benefits, asserting that the collective wisdom of diverse individuals often leads to fairer outcomes.


The essence of having a jury in the legal process is to bring the community’s voice into the courtroom. They act as a bridge between legal professionals and the everyday realities of the general populace. Through their involvement, the judicial process remains rooted in societal values, ensuring a justice system that is for the people, by the people.

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