The 10th Kingdom is a miniseries in which two New Yorkers travel to a land of fairy tales, post-happily ever after.
In one scene, one of the main party of characters is accused of murdering a shepherdess. He is put on trial with a judge who has already decided his guilt and, worst of all, a jury panel composed entirely of sheep.
After the closing arguments, the sheep are released from the jury pen and are allowed to wander into one of two other pens: Guilty and Not Guilty.
The Not Guilty box is empty. The Guilty box is full of food. Unsurprisingly, the sheep crowd on in.
On face this seems like a terrible system, but you have to remember— the characters are outsiders to an insular community and the crime in question is the death of a young girl. They never were going to get an advantage.
Imagine instead how the system probably works when the only ones on the stands are the ones who live there— when the town members are actually divided.
Now, here is aspect of the courthouse I neglected to mention before— the guilty/not guilty pens are open air and easily accessed by those watching. Anyone can toss food in. Instead of placing the responsibility of a decision in the hands of 12 people who, given the community and the large family sizes, could not possibly be neutral, the decision belongs to everyone who bothers to watch. Also, given that everyone in town appears to belong to some family and have access to a farm, sheep food, or something they can use to influence the sheep.
So, the justice system in the town allows for any member of the town who cares enough about the outcome of the trial to affect the trial.
Secondly, the use of sheep also introduces an element of chance or divine right. Think of trial by combat— whoever won was right. The idea was that the gods would side with whichever combatant was right and ensure that s/he won.
The sheep are the same. Sheep cannot understand human arguments or be persuaded, other than by food. If the two boxes are equally full, then whichever the sheep are led to occupy must be the truth. And, if the sheep ever turned from a full box for an emptier one, then that is even greater support. Remember, this is a world of fairy tales and narrative necessities— to borrow from the words of one character, the people in this world either live happily ever after or die from horrible curses. The toast in another scene is ‘happily ever after.’ So, instead of divine right, we have narrative right.
In other words, the story will decide, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stack the deck anyway.
And my lunch break is now over. :)