Monday, September 30, 2019
Sara Kimble, Of "Masculine Tyranny" and the Women's Jury": The Gender Politics of Jury Service in Third Republic France, Law & History Review (2019)
In 1905 Hyacinthe Bélilon (1846–1913) and Camille Bélilon (1851–1930), two sisters working under pseudonyms as writers, began attending criminal trials and issuing unofficial verdicts as part of a new organization: the jury féminin, the women’s jury. Led by the sisters, this organization consisted of a panel of twelve female jurors who attended trials in Paris. As witnesses to the courtroom spectacle, these women would have been seated as members of the public audience, behind the gates of the barreau, the open space where attorneys and witnesses addressed the judges. Following each trial, the jury féminin issued their own unofficial verdicts and published their reasoning in the monthly newspaper Journal des femmes over a period of 5 years. The resulting trove of verdicts for eighty cases highlights the ways in which these unauthorized female jurors made decisions to exonerate or assign responsibility to the defendants.
The jury féminin contributed to a sustained public protest against male bias in the justice system, a condemnation of official all-male juries’ role in perpetuating a double moral standard and the inequalities of the French civil and penal codes. Their feminist legal commentary on criminal cases challenged the assumption that the legal system provided equal treatment for female victims or defendants. These activists’ courtroom appearances and published articles were forms of protest that furthered the political campaign to admit women to criminal juries, and by extension, to promote an enlarged role in civic life for women.