In a powerful warning to jurors that the misuse of the internet and social media during criminal trials will not be tolerated by the courts, a juror who discussed his case on Facebook and another who carried out internet research have been found guilty of contempt of court and each sentenced to two months’ imprisonment.
The first juror discussed a case he was trying on Facebook in crude terms, but denied any wrong-doing when he was questioned by the judge. He was discharged from the jury. The other juror performed a Google search for extra information about the fraud case he was trying and told other members of the jury about what he had uncovered. That trial collapsed and there had to be a re-trial.
Both jurors were found guilty of common law contempt after carrying out an act likely to interfere with the due administration of justice. Each of them must serve half their sentences in prison. Passing sentence on the pair, Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, said that a message had to be sent out to jurors that immediate custodial sentences are almost inevitable in cases of this kind.
The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, who brought the cases before the High Court, said: ‘Jurors who use the internet to research a case undermine justice. It creates a risk that the defendant will be convicted or acquitted, not on the evidence, but on unchallenged and untested material discovered by the juror. These cases show that jurors must follow the directions given to them by the trial judge not to discuss the case outside the jury room, including discussions and posts on the internet.’
Local Solicitor Shaun Underhill, of Winchester firm Shentons, commented “It is a natural impulse to discuss the events of the day with friends, and no doubt the two jurors did not believe that they had done anything wrong. However, anyone called for jury duty has to understand that even the most general of comments about a case on the internet is likely to be regarded as contempt of court. The jail sentences, while they may seem harsh to some, are a reflection of the seriousness of this offence. ”