The right to trial by jury has been traditionally acknowledged as a pillar of the English legal system. Under the principle of ‘twelve good men and true’, juries had been trusted for centuries with the responsibility of dispensing justice impartially and according to evidence. Defendants had the right to be tried ‘by their peers’, but juries had always been composed entirely of men. In 1919, reforms in the law allowed women to take their seats as jurors in a criminal trial for the first time. The trial took place here in Bristol in 1920, and not everyone was entirely happy about it.
In May 2018, Dorset’s Shire Hall in Dorchester reopened after a £2.9 million redevelopment as a new courthouse museum. Rose Wallis, Associate Director of the Regional History Centre, has worked on the project for two years as consultant historian and curator. Under the banner ‘justice in the balance’, the new museum promises to engage visitors with the history of crime, law, and punishment, and past and present efforts to achieve justice.