A pal of ours is on jury duty this week, and reminded us of one of the great pleasures of the process (at least in New York): getting to view Enter the Jury Room on your first morning. Narrated by the late Ed Bradley, the short film is surprisingly witty and informative, especially for those potential jurors whose legal knowledge may be close to nil. The best part undoubtedly comes toward the beginning, as Bradley describes the bad ol’ days of trial by ordeal. The point is clear—while we may grumble at the prospect of spending several days listening to testimony in a slip-and-fall case, it beats reverting back to a sytem that relies upon witch flotation tests.
But Enter the Jury Room errs in insisting that trial by ordeal was a vestige of Medieval Europe. In fact, the practice persisted well into the 19th century in Burma, where the Konbaung Dynasty employed four brutal methods of settling cases. The one that strikes us as the most nonsensical (albeit disturbingly well thought out)? Trial by lead:
In the ordeal by lead, the accuser and the accused wrapped their forefingers of right hand with split bamboo, and thrust them in molten lead weighed 333.3 kyats heavy. One who injured his forefinger was regarded guilty, and the other innocent.
Read about the other ordeals here. (PDF of the Japanese/Burmese version here.) Sadly, though Burma may have abandoned such wantonly cruel methods of dispensing justice, its current system doesn’t seem all that less capricious.