Can trial by Jury survive the Facebook Era

Trial by jury may be under threat from Facebook. Louisa Hollely, a Partner at Shentons Solicitors and Mediators in Winchester, points to a recent  case which  the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has been asked to investigate, after it emerged that the defendant had 22 mutual Facebook ‘friends’ with a member of the jury.

In a case which raises question marks over the impartiality of trial by jury amidst the torrent of the social media, the defendant’s lawyers argued that her links to the juror gave rise to at least an appearance of bias and that her conviction for an offence of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm should be overturned.

The trial judge had refused to discharge the juror after she admitted knowing the landlady of a pub where the defendant was said to have first confronted the victim of the alleged attack. However, since the trial, the defendant’s lawyers argue that a series of other ‘small town’ links have been revealed between the defendant and the juror.

There was evidence that the juror had written about her court duty on Facebook and had ‘liked’ a comment by a friend, which stated: “If it was me, I would send them all down”. It had also emerged that the landlady had managed another pub where the defendant had committed previous criminal damage and violent disorder offences.

As well as the Facebook connection, it had come out since the trial that the juror’s daughter had witnessed the defendant’s arrest and was a friend of a member of the defendant’s family. Witness statements had also revealed that the juror had previously drunk at the same pub and had formerly lived near the defendant.

“These so-called ‘small-town’ links are bound to occur in many cases” says Louisa “It is becoming common for people to have hundreds or maybe even thousands of ‘friends’ on Facebook. It will be interesting to see how things develop.”