peine forte et dure

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After the Lateran Council of the church in 1215 forbade the clergy to take part in ordeals, the king's justices had no means of trying the guilt or innocence of suspected criminals. After a number of experiments they developed the trial jury of twelve men to decide. Under the statute of Westminster I (1275), Parliament provided that anyone who refused to accept jury trial should be put into a ‘prison forte et dure’ until he agreed to it. By some error this section came to be interpreted as ‘peine forte et dure’, which in turn came to be literally interpreted as the placing of weights upon the hapless prisoner, increasing until he either consented to jury trial or perished. In 1772 the peine forte et dure was abolished.

Subjects: British History.

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