The history of female jurors in Scotland

When was the first woman juror in Scotland, and what did people think about them?

I volunteered at my workplace last year for Doors Open Day, opening up the library as a stop for guided “behind the scenes” and “historic” tours of the building complex. The library was a popular stop, and the public asked a lot of questions, some of which I could answer, and some I couldn’t. One of the questions was “when did a woman first sit on a jury in Scotland?”. What was the answer? I had no idea! I knew it would have to be around about the time women first got the vote, but I didn’t know how closely tied that was to women sitting on juries, or what the process of female jurors being authorised was.

So, I decided to find out. I couldn’t find any ready information on ladies in Scottish juries (although this resource is very helpful for information on English lady jurors), so I thought I’d do a bit of digging in the newspapers of the time. Because it’s awesome, the National Library of Scotland has a wealth of electronic resources available remotely to residents of Scotland. I knew that it had a variety of newspaper resources, and for the time period I was looking at (1918 – 1928), The Scotsman Digital Archive was perfect, so I went hunting through it. It has an Edinburgh bias, but covers news from all over Scotland, the UK and the world, so it should be a reliable resource. So I somehow ended up down a rabbit hole of newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and teeth-grindingly patronising attitudes about the “weaker sex”. This is not an academic review, rather a review of newspaper reports available at the time – hopefully this is of interest!

 

Legislative history and implementation

Ladies have been able to sit on juries in the UK since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force. On August 9th 1920, a Bill was introduced to regulate how “Scottish women jurors” would be introduced and managed in the courts (1). The resulting Jurors (Enrolment of Women) (Scotland) Act was given Royal Assent on 16th August 1920, with a timescale of no more than 6 months for it to be brought into effect: “new lists of jurors shall be prepared and come into use in every county within six months after the passing of this Act”. The Court of Session passed an Act of Sederunt regulating the procedure for juries with women on 7th February 1921 (2), and in advance of the February 1921 deadline, in Edinburgh in December 1920 Sheriff Crole instructed the Sheriff Clerk to create a new jurors roll for the city and county, including eligible men and women, and 27,500 circulars were issued (3). The citations for the Edinburgh Sheriff Court were the first to be issued, and there was discussion of the potential for lady jurors to be cited for duty in the 14th March 1921 trial of “the alleged Sinn Fein prisoners” (4).

 

England

Ladies sat for first time at the Old Bailey in London on 11th January 1921 (5). Soon after, they sat in a divorce court (the Allen case) as part of a mixed jury on 25th January 1921 (6). The lady jurors of the divorce case had some of the letters and photos that were submitted as evidence withheld from them at the suggestion of the judge, and a member of the bar excused himself from describing them to them, as they were  ”too revolting for women to hear” (7).

 

Scotland

The first female jurors in Scotland sat in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on the 10th of March 1921. The case involved the theft of grain from a warehouse in Leith (8). The text below is from the Scotsman report on the event, from the 11th March 1921 (9).

“Jury Women

Pioneers of the New Order in Edinburgh

Time is a revolutionary in its treatment of the law courts and their procedure. The impression was created by a visit to an upper room in Edinburgh Sheriff Court House yesterday. From a first glance the previous visit might have been the day before; as a matter of fact, the interval was wide. Women for the first time in the city sat on a jury. The gentler sex have been petitioners, Portia’s and other characters in the dramas of the Courts; now they entered into the prerogative of the men, and shared the duty of weighing evidence and returning verdicts. The half-dozen women summoned were in plenty of time for the proceedings, and after all had answered to the roll-call, they smiled and waited the fate of the ballot, for, of course, more were called than need be chosen.

They were to hear one of the statutory inquiries into a number of fatal accidents, and for that purpose a jury of seven had to be empanelled. The first name drawn was that of a man, and finally, when the seven citizens “good and true” had been called, they included three ladies, one of whom was married. From the point of view of the visual amenities of the courtroom, the presence of the ladies in fur and feathers on the jurors’ benches was no disadvantage. “Jury men and jury women” said the Sheriff Principal to those whose services were not required, “I thank you for your attendance, and you are now at liberty to go.” Did a momentary disappointment cloud the brow of the women who were left out? At any rate, one lady lingered on to watch the proceedings, possibly with the idea that they may serve better next time who only sit and wait. Others made a quick exit, and one woman, basket on arm, with may be a presentiment that things would turn out so, was perhaps able to carry out a shopping plan after all.

Then there were unfolded for the mixed jury five stories of the casualties which occur periodically in the great army of industry. There were pit accidents, those tragedies which occur in the subterranean darkness where the coal is won; there was a brickworks fatality in which a man was apparently struck down suddenly by the machinery. For the examination of the causes and circumstances of these cases the women had to follow narratives by witnesses which were at times necessarily technical, but they gave the statements their close attention from first to last. They seemed keenly interested in their new job, and though every case had the angel of death in the background, they did not shirk the saddening details upon which the presence in the Court of other women in black – from the homes where the blows had fallen – was a realistic commentary. For a first experience, their judicial functions were, however, comparatively light, for the verdicts in these inquiries are usually formal. In certain of the cases questions of fault were raised, but, on the suggestion of the Sheriff, who pointed out the possibility of other proceedings in regard to them, the jury returned open verdicts. The women discussed the evidence with their male colleagues on the jury, and through a sitting which lasted for three and a half hours were alert listeners to evidence and observers of procedure. At the close, Sheriff Crole thanked the jury for their services, and commented upon the first appearance of women in their new role, and expressed the hope that the long sitting had not been too much for them.”

Female jurors were expected to first sit in Glasgow Sheriff Court on the 15th of March 1921 (10) and the first lady jurors in the Court of Session sat on the 17th of March 1921 (11), before Lord Sands. “The case submitted to the jury, whom counsel addressed as “members of the jury” had reference to a claim for damages arising out of a Leith tram-car accident.” This case appears to be unreported, notable only for the jurors rather than the legal points.The first mixed jury sat in Glasgow Sheriff Court on the 21st of March 1921 (12).

The first murder trial with female jurors in Scotland was heard in Perth on the 5th of April 1921 (13).

 

Reception of female jurors

Although there is regular reference to the belief that women sitting on juries is an experiment, and that it would be “reconsidered by Parliament”(14), it soon became settled that women were regular participants in juries. The advent of women jurors seems to generally have been received with equanimity in Scotland.

Prior to their introduction in Scotland, a case in West Bromwich Sessions was a topic of discussion in December 1920 (15), as the female jurors had been objected to due to their “inexperience”. A response by a Dora Rees in the letters page a few days later pointed out that the onus in that situation was not on the jurors to have experience, but on the judge to manage the case properly, and asked “what experience or legal knowledge a juror is supposed to have?”(16).

An editorial in The Scotsman, regarding the withholding of the “revolting” evidence in the English divorce case which female jurors sat on, was not impressed with the action of the Judge in the case in doing so.They point out that “in the operating wards of our hospitals, in the mixed classes of our medical schools, neither nurses nor women medical students nor anyone else are embarrassed by false prudery”(17).

A group of Scottish women’s organisations wrote to the Scotsman to protest about the way the judge in the Allen divorce case had handled the issue of having women on the jury. They stated that the distinction made by the judge between male and female jurors was “highly improper, and stands in the way of women jurors being able to carry out their work efficiently, and that this would be likely to lead to the service of women on juries being discredited, and even falling into desuetude”(18).

Discussions at a meeting of the Edinburgh Women Citizen’s Association on February 24th 1921 were interesting (19). J Robertson Christie, Principal Clerk of Justiciary was supportive of the idea that women jurors could be useful in certain types of cases (namely those involving other women or children as witnesses), but was more dubious about their value otherwise. This was not due to objections to the idea of women serving, but because the speaker preferred an option where “public-spirited, trained women who felt themselves qualified to be of use in this particular department of citizenship might have volunteered to have their names placed upon a roll from which jury women might be summoned.” The meeting also poured scorn upon the actions of the judge in the English divorce case of the previous month, stating that “If there happened here in a civil trial what happened in a trial in England not long ago – when certain parts of the evidence were withheld because they were supposed to be too revolting for them – the verdict would be set aside, because no jury was entitled to assume the functions of the jury which was not prepared to decide upon the evidence.”

In a “Letter to the Editor” by a Charles A Salmond in October 1921 expressed a variety of objections to female jurors (20). One point was that of the “propriety of dragging gentlewomen of retiring and refined instinct” onto juries for “often nasty” cases. He was also concerned about how a woman juror would cope with having to “disregard…her feelings and all of her home ties and duties”, while claiming that he did “not presume to refer to the mentality of ladies or to suggest one thing or the other about their capacity” to sit effectively as jurors. Instead, he claimed that women were physically unsuited to sit as jurors, and this could lead to new juries constantly having to be summoned, as woman after woman would swoon away when exposed to the physical hardships of…sitting in a jury box. He conceded that there “may be cases in which women jurors may very appropriately serve”, but he urged that “the new system should be drastically modified”.

Rebuttals of the previous concerns regarding the delicate nature of women and the problem of them being exposed to distasteful evidence were regular.

Mrs Seaton-Tiedeman, Secretary of the Divorce Reform Law Union said that “nowhere were women more needed than in the Courts of the country”, and that expecting women to be innocent was unwise, as “knowledge is a great protection” (21).

In April 1922, there is an exchange of letters between J Forbes Moncrieff, who declares that judging “from the conversation of women generally” saying that “very few of them have the slightest desire to serve as jurors”(22), and Dora Rees of the Edinburgh Women Citizens’ Association rebuts his statements, saying “the same conclusion may be drawn from the conversations of men generally” (23). Moncrieff responds, asserting that he has “a strong conviction that I speak for a large number of women” when he claims that men are better suited for jury work (24). He continued in his conviction that women were unsuited for jury work, and should only do it voluntarily, with another letter to The Scotsman in November 1824. He asserted that he believed that the female jurors in a recent case “like many (possibly most) women, were serving in this capacity very unwillingly” (25). Dora Rees appears to have give up responding to him after her letter in April, and I can’t say I blame her: J. Forbes Moncrieff is unshakeable in his manly conviction that he speaks for the silent majority of women! Instead, “A Woman Citizen” responded to that letter, stating that “women of clean mind and habit are the best agents yet discovered for clearing away filth, and that they shrink from such work has not deterred them from doing it all down the ages” (26). Whether A Woman Citizen was Dora Rees is unknown, but J. Forbes Moncrieff did not respond to this letter. Perhaps he finally accepted that he was not qualified to speak on behalf of all women? In support of A Woman Citizen’s response, a letter from “A. Mother” on 1 December 1924 seconds her previous comments, and refutes the “sad view” that “women will be contaminated by hearing filthy evidence”(27).

It appears that sitting as a juror was initially something that ladies could excuse themselves from when asked by the judge if they wanted to do so, but this was not something that was occurring in Scotland. Those being tried also apparently had the right to object to female jurors hearing their case, and if this happened, they were dismissed. Again, this does not appear to have happened in Scotland, with mention of defendants objecting to female jurors all relating to English cases. Another concern was how to address female jurors, as “gentlemen of the jury” was no longer accurate, so “members of the jury” seems to have taken its place (28).

By 1923, female jurors seems to be firmly established as a part of normal court business in Scotland, sitting on a variety of cases. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Alness, praised female jurors in a speech to the Associated Societies of the University of Edinburgh in January 1923 (29):

“Touching on public service rendered by women, Lord Alness remarked that it was not too much to say that their position vis a vis of the State, had within recent years been revolutionised. Now, in the exercise of the franchise, in the practice of the professions, in Parliament and outside of it, they were substantially on the same footing as men. He had been very much struck recently by the service rendered by women upon juries – particularly in criminal cases. They sat a few weeks ago on numerous juries at the High Court in Glasgow, and they dealt competently and sympathetically with some of the most difficult and terrible cases which had come within the range of his professional experience. He was satisfied that in dealing in particular with cases where young children were concerned, their services were quite invaluable.”

And entertainingly, by January 1922, you could have placed a bet on a Lady Juror…in the Victoria Cup at Hurst (30). She appears to have had quite a successful career: by September 1922 she won the Jockey Club Sweepstakes at Newmarket (31), and was still winning five years later at Lingfield in 1927 (32).

It looks like the Lady Juror was definitely a good long-term bet 😉

 

  1. Jurors (Enrolment of Women) (Scotland) Act 1920, Ch 53, Royal Assent 16th August 1920, coming into force no later than 6 months after Royal Assent = mid-February 1921
  2. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 07 Feb 1921: 7
  3. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 14 Dec 1920: 3
  4. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 04 Mar 1921: 4
  5. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 12 Jan 1921: 6
  6. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 26 Jan 1921: 7
  7. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 8
  8. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 19 Mar 1921: 8
  9. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 11 Mar 1921: 4
  10. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 15 Mar 1921: 4
  11. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Mar 1921: 4
  12. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 15 Mar 1921: 4
  13. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 06 Apr 1921: 7
  14. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 11
  15. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 07 Dec 1920: 6
  16. Rees, Dora. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 11 Dec 1920: 13
  17. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 8
  18. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 05 Feb 1921: 9
  19. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 25 Feb 1921: 3
  20. CHARLES A SALMOND D D. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 12 Oct 1921: 10
  21. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 11
  22. J FORBES MONCRIEFF. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 08 Apr 1922: 13
  23. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 14 Apr 1922: 7
  24. J FORBES MONCRIEFF. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Apr 1922: 6
  25. J FORBES MONCRIEFF. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 27 Nov 1924: 7
  26. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 28 Nov 1924: 5
  27. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 01 Dec 1924: 5
  28. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Mar 1921: 4
  29. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Jan 1923: 9
  30. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 27 Jan 1922: 3
  31. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Sep 1922: 4
  32. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 14 Apr 1927: 8

 

 

Author: Jennie

Law, libraries, books, crafts, and general geekery.

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