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Bushel’s Case (or Bushell's Case) (1670) is a famous Englishmarker decision on the role of juries.

History of decision

The case came about from a previous case involving two Quakers, William Penn and William Mead, charged with unlawful assembly. In August, 1670, the two Quakers were challenging the Conventicle Act, which restricted certain religious practices. The judge had charged the jury that they "shall not be dismissed until we have a verdict that the court will accept." When the jury decided to acquit, the judge was not willing to accept it and sent them back, fining them. Edward Bushel, one of the jurors, refused to pay the fine and so the judge threatened him that "[y]ou shall be locked up without meat, drink, fire, and tobacco. You shall not think thus to abuse the court; we will have a verdict, by the help of God, or you shall starve for it." This was not unusual - well into the nineteenth century, jurors were locked up without 'food or fire, water or candle' until they reached a verdict. There are numerous interesting cases in which deliberations went on in this manner for so long that jurors fainted and doctors were summoned.Bushel, the foreman of the jury, took a case to the Court of Common Pleas, where it was established by Sir John Vaughan that a jury could not be coerced into giving a particular verdict. This case established unequivocally the independence of the jury and is cited by proponents of jury nullification. Reported by Chief Justice Vaughan in 124 ER 1006 (The English Reports).

While a modern judge may not direct a jury to find a defendant guilty, it is common for him to ask a foreman to return a verdict of not guilty, where, for example, he considers there is insufficient evidence for the prosecution. In a similar fashion, judges have a level of control over the evidence that is put to a jury and the defences open to a defendant. A recent example, in the context of inquests, is the 2008 Jean Charles de Menezes inquest where the coroner controversially instructed the jury that they could not return a verdict of unlawful killing.


  • Rhodes, David. "Life in Crime: Can a Judge ever direct a jury to convict?" Solicitors Journal 8 December 2006

See also

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