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Net downloads prompt retrial in rape case

Judges rule conviction 'unsafe'

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A rape conviction has been overturned by appeal judges and a retrial ordered, after a juror apparently downloaded related documents from the web.

According to reports, the judges ruled that the conviction was unsafe, after the documents were found in the jury room. Jury members could have been influenced by the documents, the judges said.

The downloaded material was found by a bailiff after the conviction in November 2003. One documents was called The Feminist Position on Rape and the other, downloaded from the Colchester Rape Crisis line, was entitled Rape and the Criminal Justice System.

In a written statement, Lord Justice Judge said that the internet has many benefits, and this ruling should not diminish its value. However, "Just as a juror should not speak about a case to anyone other than another juror, and for precisely the same reason of principle, he or she should not conduct private research for information which may have a bearing on the trial."

Jurors considering extraneous information from the internet contravenes two well established legal principles, he continued, and if the material had influenced thier thinking, the verdict returned could not be considered a true verdict.

"The first is open justice, that the defendant in particular, but the public too, is entitled to know of the evidential material considered by the decision-making body. This leads to the second principle, the entitlement of both the prosecution and the defence to a fair opportunity to address all the material considered by the jury when reaching its verdict."

"Of course, not every site is always right. Some sites seek to persuade. The contents of some are inconsistent with the assertions made in another. The internet cannot discuss the case. It can, however, provide material which may influence a juror’s views. If used for research purposes during the trial it can just as easily influence the juror’s mind as a discussion with a friend or neighbour."

No date has been set for the retrial. ®

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