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.
"John Lyes considers the career of an overlooked Bristol lawyer and finds him to have been a feisty and prolific criminal justice campaigner... Walker was also a regular writer of letters to the local press". Walker protested injustices wherever he could, whether they happened to him or others he saw it as his duty to try and make changes to the system.
"Though we have long boasted of having fewer robberies committed here than in any place of equal size, yet it is impossible to be entirely exempted from lawless plunderers’, according to a sober assessment from 1786. Indeed, by the later eighteenth century, there were few places so full of temptations and opportunities as Bath,with all its well-to-do residents and visitors,opulent shops, fine houses and well-stocked gardens. In this article,Trevor Fawcett examines the record of the city’s prosecution society in the constant fight against property crime".
'The surviving notebooks of eighteenth century magistrates can be used by historians to investigate the extent to which customary culture was constrained and regulated by law. Wood-gathering may have been essential to the economy of the rural poor, but it remained theft in the eyes of the law. Carl Griffin opens the notebook of William Hunt of West Lavington in Wiltshire and finds that it was a crime that kept the magistrate peculiarly busy'.