The Islamic Origins of the Jury System

The Lafif in Maliki jurisprudence developed between the 8th and 11th centuries and stipulated that 12 members of the community would swear to tell the truth and reach a unanimous verdict.

In the 12th century, Henry II of England similarly instituted a jury system of 12 free men charged to uncover the facts of the case with the same characteristics as the lafif system. He was likely influenced by his exchequer, Thomas Brown, who formerly worked under the diwan of the Kingdom of Sicily which had recently conquered the Emirate of Sicily and incorporated Islamic government and legal systems into their procedures.

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In his article The Islamic Origins of the Common Law, John Makdisi compares the Islamic lafif with the English jury system and comments on “the remarkable similarity that existed between these two institutions”. He elaborates:

The structure of the lafif resembles the jury in nearly every detail as it appeared in England in the twelfth century. If one compares the [eight] characteristics of the English jury with the characteristics described above for the Islamic jury, the Islamic jury (1) was a body of twelve witnesses drawn from the neighborhood and sworn to tell the truth, (2) who were bound to give a verdict, (3) unanimously (and if twelve did not agree, more would be found until there were twelve who agreed), (4) about matter from what they had personally seen or heard, (5) binding on the judge, (6) to settle the truth concerning facts in a case, (7) between ordinary people, and (8) obtained as of right by the plaintiff.

[John A. Makdisi, The Islamic Origins of the Common Law, North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 77, No. 5, June 1999]

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