The Jury – Why not?
I’ve asked for a few favours with this article, at least when it comes to some of the details. But at least in this article, I want to put my view forward about juries and whether they have a place in the Seven Commandments. But in order to deal with the matter, I should at least detail what a jury is and what the Seven Commandments stipulate.
What is a jury?
I’ll deal with the modern conception of what a jury is.
Currently a jury is a group of citizens randomly selected from the general population and brought together to judge upon the guilt or innocence of a person. There is a common phrase that a person is supposed to be judged by “a jury of his/her peers” meaning a group of laymen. What do I mean by “laymen”? That word refers to a person that doesn’t have specialized or professional knowledge about a particular subject. So essentially, a jury is a bunch of people with no expertise in law, with unknown levels of knowledge about logic, proper judgment or reason, who are put together to hear evidence regarding an act and determine if a person is guilty or innocent.
And in our system, how do the jury get to hear the evidence? It’s not from an impartial presenter of the facts, but rather by two salesmen (or two parties of salesmen), called “lawyers” or “solicitors” who put together exactly what evidence they want the jury to see, and then sell their doubt or certainty to the jury using almost whatever means necessary, honest or dishonest.
It should also be noted that in some countries, this jury is screened by those two salesmen (there’s little point in calling them “lawyers” as their job is not to get to the truth necessarily but to defend their “product” (their client), and the job of the salesmen is to get a jury that will most likely vote for one side of the issue.
Let’s not forget that this group of random people get to be instructed by a judge, an entity which can no longer be regarded as the epitome of morality or wisdom, but is just a(nother) lawyer with more pomp. This judge advises this random set of people on how they should view evidence and also can limit them on what choices they can make.
The jury do not have to give the reasoning for their judgments.
What do the Seven Commandments say on the issue?
In the formal listing I’ve seen of the seven laws and the details they include, I’ve never seen any provision given for a jury as defined above. What is exceptionally clear is that the minimum standard for Gentile justice when it comes to judging a case is that there needs to be a judge. There are no salesmen (“lawyers”). There is no jury. There is only the role of the judge. It is possible to have more than one judge, but not a jury.
This is not all in the matter of how a case is judged. In fact, the nature of this command brings a more condemning view of the above notion of a jury.
All of the Seven Commandments are prohibitions. One of the commandments is commonly known as “Courts of Justice.” But if you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll see that I normally call this law something else: the prohibition against injustice. That is the prohibitive nature of this commandment.
Now why did I bring this up? Because it is forbidden for any Gentile to commit an act that perverts justice or causes an injustice to occur. Again, it can be asked why I bring this up. Because there is a detail of this command that is highlighted amongst the 613 laws of the Jews, which have some overlap with the seven commandments for Gentiles. This detail is seen in Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot and his discussion on negative commandment (or prohibition) 284, the prohibition against appointing an unqualified judge. It states how unfit judges can commit injustice (condemning the innocent and declaring innocent the wicked) because of their ignorance. This falls into another Torah prohibition Rambam lists, number 273, it is stated positively in some places as “dispense proper justice” (much like the Gentile law of Dinim when it is stated as an active commandment to set up courts of justice) when it is in fact a prohibition against perverting justice, when a person judges unjustly using incorrect principles. And when those who are unqualified and thus unfit are put in the place to judge someone’s guilt or innocence, this is prone to happen.
A principal that naturally follows on from these prohibitions is that there shouldn’t be unqualified people to judge cases, as is stated in Alan Cecil’s book, Secular by Design, where he comments on a book called the Sefer HaChinnuch which goes through Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot.
The prohibition of a man of being a judge if he is unlearned in Torah no matter how wise or learned in other areas he might be.
The applicability of these prohibitions to Gentiles is also reflected on page 33 of Aaron Lichtenstein’s book “The Seven Laws of Noah”.
And in the face of these prohibitions, we have the jury, an entity almost purposefully set up to be made up of the legally ignorant, most of the time raised in a philosophically apathetic and mentally lazy culture with a below par education system which manufactures employees and serfs rather than people with sharp acuity and grounded wisdom.
If the Seven Commandments prohibit injustice, then the jury concept – something entirely missing from Torah and thus is an “outlaw” institution – is a great tool for the undermining of this command.
The fancy stories of “the jury”
Now there is going to be a significant amount of people who would disagree with me on this issue.
Anti-Torah people make much ado about the absence of the jury from the Torah system. And there are those enamored with their country’s law codes and the belief that such codes produce freedom who almost sing about the fact that having a jury is like a bastion of freedom. According to the website http://www.duhaime.org, some judge said the following:
What makes juries worthwhile is that they see things differently from judges. Trial by jury is the lamp that shows that freedom lives.
And I’m sure patriots and nationalists of different countries will feel the fire of “righteous” indignation fill their flag coloured soul as one, such as me, seems to oppose their vision of freedom.
I was watching a video on the advantages and disadvantages of the jury system and on the “advantages” side, it showed that having a jury was in line with a democratic view of justice. So along with those I’ve mentioned previously, “democracy”-lovers are going to dislike this article. To some, to just have a judge decide on the issues is a bit like having a single ruler or a dictator, where there is just too much fear of a single person having that much power failing. But to have a jury comprised of what represents society show that the people have a voice, not just in the ballot box, not just in the political system, but also in the justice system. It sounds so “uplifting.”
But let’s be totally blunt about this “democratic” style justice, about this “bastion of freedom.” Sorry. Let me be blunt. Just as might doesn’t make right, the majority doesn’t make justice: it just makes peer pressure. It just makes the tyranny of the majority, something not at all dependent on righteousness. The fact that a group of legally ignorant strangers say that a person is innocent or guilty says absolutely nothing about whether the person was really innocent or guilty. Ignorance is not the safest place upon which to base truth or justice. The jury isn’t chosen out of the most upright and good of people. It’s just a roll of the dice, and “saint” and “sinner” and all in between can be chosen. And in most places, they are chosen from a list called “the electoral roll”. That means that these people, for one reason or another, chose to make it known to the government that they are eligible to vote, and that’s what puts their names on that list. It could have been out of coercion since some governments threaten people with robbery if they don’t declare their eligibility. This shows that the person is prone to bending under legal pressure. It could have been that the person is on the list because it helps their credit rating. This shows that such a person can be irresponsible with their details for financial stability or gain. Or it could be that the person is so invested in the political system that they actually want to give their active support to government. Since in earlier articles I stated the immorality of modern governments, this makes such a person willingly complicit in the murder and theft, damage and rape perpetrated by the legal and political system we live under.
I’m not saying that being on this electoral roll necessarily makes a person immoral. But it is just another piece of evidence, another question mark that hangs over this “jury” notion.
There is no inherent safety or justice in a group of legally ignorant strangers deciding a case over a single qualified judge looking at the case. It makes too big an assumption about the morality and intelligence of the jury and therefore the culture. Or is it the other way around? (Don’t worry. I’m not claiming that a single qualified judge is better in any substantive way nowadays. I trust neither a jury or a judge in our present age.)
All of the naysayers above who fear or dislike the absence of a jury in court cases don’t make a case based on essentially good principles. The anti-Torah crowd based on fear, hatred and lack of knowledge of Torah and the Seven Commandments. There is nothing inherently good about a country’s law codes, not even the highly worshipped american constitution, because they all include decrees that go against the seven commandments as far as I know. Plus, what is a law nowadays? It is nothing except the written or declared will of some stranger who wanted to control others for his/her own reasons, good or bad, backed by the threat of violence or force. There is nothing inherently good about that at all. (I know there are some devout believers who honestly think they had some part in the writing of the law simply because they vote or support some politician. I’m not going to even go into that now.)
There is nothing inherently good about freedom when it comes to justice. But the judge who gave the above quote may have been blinded by patriotic democracy worship. Why do I say that? If you just think about the actual content of his words, you’ll see that his point has absolutely nothing to do with the meting out of justice. The quote highlights two things: that a group of random strangers of unknown literacy, rationality and who have no specified knowledge of law sees things differently to a judge (this statement is neither negative nor positive); and that a bunch of randomly picked laymen somehow are a symbol, not of justice, but of freedom. This shows you the focus of the statement. The aim is not “let us aim to get things right and emphasise justice” but rather “let the people have the illusion of freedom by giving them power over their own.” It seems more like a collective ego-stroke of delusion or like propaganda than a real desire for justice.
And those that like or love the jury system out of patriotism, believing the country of their choice has the greatest legal system in the world or something like that, still don’t take into account the inherent weaknesses of taking a bunch of inadequately qualified strangers, whose actual grounding in understanding isn’t even the main basis for them being chosen, and putting someone’s life in their hands. I’m sure that when it seems like the system works, they get a puff of pride in the chest as if they’ve got evidence that their country is as good as they think it is (overlooking the times when the jury system hasn’t worked or the persistent problems with it). But that is evidence that once again, the issue isn’t necessarily justice, but rather the ego stroke that comes with feeling superior to others.
When all is said and done, I’m going to hear that it’s the best we’ve got, just like what is said about the democratic style of electing tyrants. But in the face of Torah, and in the face of the inherent weaknesses, “the best we got” is like the highest point within the city dump, or the shiniest piece of crap. Either way, essentially you’ve got a mess.
I’m sure I haven’t beaten down every point or mentioned every weakness. But once again, I’m not going to stew on this for long. And if I get feedback or extra info from the people I’ve asked, then there’ll be more if it’s relevant.
But for now, the main points are that the jury system, as is much of the legal system I know about, has no place in Torah or the Seven Laws and is an inherently weak system with no real emphasis on justice but rather on people-pleasing.