Are women simply too ‘nervous’ or emotional to serve as jurors? This was once believed to be the case.
The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919
eliminated several barriers for women’s formal inclusion in public life, including by allowing them to act on juries. In 1920, the first female jurors were sworn in at Bristol Quarter Sessions. They heard evidence in the case against William Henry Ayton, who was accused of stealing parcels at Weston-Super-Mare station. The words ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury’ were used in an English Court for the first time.
Special juries of ‘matrons’
were first recorded in the 13th century. These women jurors were tasked to discover whether a woman found guilty of a capital crime was pregnant, and so should not be executed for the time being. Such juries were rare by the end of the 19th century, and became obsolete by the 1930s.
The significance of the 1919 reform was that it enabled women to serve, for the first time, on grand and trial juries. Women could actually play a role in determining whether an accused person was guilty, rather than being restricted to post-verdict fact-finding of a specialist, feminine nature.
Join us in our countdown to the centenary of the 1919 Act. Read this fascinating article
on women jurors or discover more on the First 100 Years timeline
. Help us fill in the gaps in the timeline with other interesting facts and support the project to produce a new digital museum of 100 video stories that tell the story that is #legallyhers