Book Review: The Palladium of Justice

Reviewer: Joe Rooney

Title: The Palladium of Justice, Origins of Trial by Jury
Author: Leonard W. Levy
Publisher: Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1999
ISBN: 1-56663-313-3

The Palladium of Justice is a short (105 pp), but lively account of the development of the jury trial from its medieval roots through incorporation in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is written by Leonard Levy, one of the foremost scholars on the US Constitution. While the primary focus of the book is the development of the jury in Colonial America, I thought it should be mentioned here on shm because half of the book does touch on the medieval jury and its competitor on the Continent, the inquisitorial process.

While brief, Levy's account does touch on the main points in the development of the jury, from the inquests that led to the creation of the Domesday Book; the Constitution of Clarendon and the Assizes of Clarendon and Northhampton which led to the development of the grand jury; the use of early juries as factfinders in land cases; and the impact of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which ended ordeals as a method of proof thereby creating a need for a new method of proof in criminal procedure. While Levy does not offer any new insights in the development of the jury, thereby disappointing those who already have a good general understanding of the historical development of the jury, the merit of this book lies in its clear, lucid, narrative of the key events in the development of the jury. Consequently, it is an excellent introduction to the subject for the reader who has no prior knowledge.

Levy also compares the medieval jury system with its main rival on the Continent, the inquisition process that became the basis of the legal systems for most of Western Europe. It is in this section that Levy's biases are most apparant. Were one to only read his account of continental legal systems, one would have the definite impression that Europe endured several hundred years of tyranny. While undoubtedly there were abuses in the system on the Continent, and the trials of the Albigensian heretics may qualify as one such example, there were also problems with the jury system which Levy neglects to explore. Thus his comparison of the Continental system with the English jury system unfairly juxtaposes the worst of the Continent with the jury system minus its flaws. In fairness to Levy, I should acknowledge that my knowledge of the developing medieval civil/canon law system is limited. Were I to study the subject in more depth, I might well agree that medieval and early modern continental justice was inferior to English justice of the same period. However, I still would like to have seen a more balanced discussion of the problems associated with the early jury sytsem, and how it worked to provide reasonable justice depite these failings.

Despite its flaws, The Palladium of Justice is a worthwhile read for those who don't have significant prior knowledge on the jury system. Once the reader has digested The Palladium of Justice, they would be well prepared to go on to more sophisticated and in-depth works like Cockburn, J. S. and Green, Thomas, eds. Twelve Good Men and True:The Criminal Trial Jury in England, 1200-1800.

Reviewer Rating: 4-Good

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