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WHEN we described, last June, the course
of law in the case of a criminal trial, and the
care taken throughout the whole procedure
to respect fully the liberty that is the birth-
right of an Englishman, we said of the
members of the grand jury"—"The duty of those
gentlemen is to read all the bills of indictment
against persons to be tried, and to
throw out those that do not seem to them
sufficiently supported by the evidence to call
for further hearing. By rejecting an indictment
the grand jury may set free a guilty
man; but it cannot condemn an innocent
one. This is the first chance given to the
prisoner, and a palladium of liberty no longer
necessary; rather unserviceable, perhaps,
than serviceable to the country." We have
now before us all the facts that are to be had
pertaining to a case which may be taken
as a reasonable illustration of the doubtful
value of grand juries in the present day. Of
their value in past times doubt is impossible:
the only argument, indeed, in favour of
retaining them is, that a future time may come
in which the people of England may again
need this additional defence against the exercise
of oppressive kingly power.

The fundamental idea of the grand and
petty jury system is, of course, that no man
shall be condemned under a crown
prosecution except upon the judgment of at least
four and twenty of his countrymen. The
crown officers first have to lay their indictment
before a grand jury composed of not
less than twelve or more than three and
twenty gentlemen of some estate and
consequence, who may examine the evidence for
the prosecution in a secret council as much
or as little as they please, and have power to
liberate the accused and to stop his formal
trial, if they declare their belief to be that
the evidence laid before them, does not suffice
to substantiate the charge. The grand jury
does not examine any witness nor call for any
statement that may be made on behalf of the
accused. It looks simply to the accusation
and to the manner in which it is to be
enforced by evidence, and is to say whether
it be fair, upon such an accusation sustained
by such evidence, to put the accused upon
his trial. If twelve of them do not agree in
saying so, the bill of indictment is not
found, and the prisoner is set free; although
it is in the power of the crown to submit a
fresh indictment at a future assize to a new
grand jury. When the formal trial follows,
no subject can be condemned unless the
whole (petit) jury of his countrymen agree
that he is guilty.

Of course, when king and people had
conflicting interests and came not seldom into
conflict, the value of this double jury
system to the subject was quite obvious
enough. In our time, however, while the old
dangers to civil liberty have decreased in
strength, new and most powerful means of
defence against them have arisen. The
greatest of these is publicity. At present the
grand jury is the only secret tribunal in
Great Britain. It has, indeed, no power to
bind, only a power to loose; but that may be
no mean power of mischief in the state.
The grand jury is a people's court: but,
while we allow no power of secret judicature
to the crown, what need is there that we
should claim any such power for the people?

In the old days, newspapers were tiny
sheets of gossip, and the proceedings both
of the legislature and of the executive were,
except in their results, to all intents and
purposes kept secret from the nation, and it
mattered little that the grand jury was not
responsible to public opinion. Moreover, when
it had to discuss freely, in relation to many a
case, the personal objects of a king or the
necessity for checking his aggression, it was
lawful and right that many things should be
said secretly that would bear almost the
construction of treason if spoken in public, and
would certainly expose the speaker of them
to much persecution from the government.
Now, however, when the people has become
a host, and a free host, submitting gladly to
be ruled by monarchs who are bound to
merit its respect, the power of the nation in
its parliament is of a kind that no monarch
could break, with help from English hands.
It is only conceivablewe do not say
possiblefor the degree of freedom to which we
have attained to be destroyed by the arms of
foreigners; and against these certainly the
secret working of grand juries would be no
valid protection.

As matters stand, therefore, if it be not