When Quakers William Mead and William Penn were preaching in Gracechurch Street in the City of London 1670, little did they know how their actions would change the course of legal history.
They were breaking the Conventicle Act, which forbade religious assemblies, but the courageous jury refused to find them guilty. The judge, furious at the rebellion, locked them up overnight without food, water or heat.
“You shall not be dismissed till we have a verdict that the court will accept,” he said.
After two days of such punishment the jury still refused to convict and the judge threatened to fine them for contempt for returning a verdict contrary to his own findings of fact. He ordered them jailed until they paid up.
Juror Edward Bushell still refused and appealed to the Court of Common Pleas. Chief justice Sir John Vaughan ruled that a jury could not be punished simply for returning a verdict if they had acted properly.
This act gave the right of juries to give their verdict according to their convictions and prevented judges from disallowing a verdict with which they disagreed or which were “wrong” in law.
“Bushell’s case” is marked with a plaque in the Old Bailey.
Some 12 years later William Penn went to America – and founded the state named after him – Pennsylvania.