Jurors start stretch in the cooler for Facebooking, Googling the accused
'Always wanted to f**k up a paedo, now I’m within the law!' Guess again, sonny
Two men have been jailed for two months for breaking strict rules against using Facebook and Google while serving on a jury.
The pair were found to be in contempt of court by senior judges in London yesterday. One of the jailed men posted a damning message on the social network about a child sex abuse defendant mid-trial; the other derailed a money-laundering case after researching the accused online.
Both were hauled before the bench this week by the attorney general Dominic Grieve, who argued the pair's actions interfered with the wheels of justice.
Kasim Davey, 21, wrote a strongly worded message on Facebook about a case involving sexual offences against a child at the end of his first day on jury duty at Wood Green Crown Court in December, according to Monday's ruling.
"Woooow I wasn't expecting to be in a jury Deciding a paedophile’s fate, I’ve always wanted to Fuck up a paedophile & now I’m within the law!” he tactfully posted on the social network.
Two of Davey's 400 or so Facebook friends gave a thumbs up to the comment, but another emailed the court to tip off officials that the juror had been posting about the case online. Although Davey denied the Facebook account was his, or that he even had a Facebook account, the trial judge discharged him and the case went ahead with 11 jurors.
Davey eventually apologised for the comment and claimed he couldn't remember the instructions given to jurors by the jury manager to not discuss details of the case with anyone outside of the proceedings, whether "face to face or over the telephone or over the internet via chat lines such as Facebook or Myspace".
But High Court judges Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Sweeney ruled yesterday that it was "untruthful" of Davey to assert that he didn't mean the Facebook comment seriously.
"By the deliberate choice of language he was making clear not only his interference with the administration of justice by disregarding his duties to act as a juror, but his plain intention to do so," they wrote.
In the second contempt charge, 29-year-old Joseph Beard - serving on a jury in a fraud trial at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court in October - told another juror a detail that they didn't remember hearing during the proceedings. Beard alleged that the defendant in his case had defrauded 1,800 investors, and said he found that figure on the internet.
(NB. A jury must only weigh up evidence that has been deemed admissible in court, rather than any old information they may stumble across by researching a case outside of court)
The trial judge was forced to discharge the entire jury, at a cost of £119,712 to the defence and between £190,000 and £200,000 to the prosecution teams.
Beard said he was under pressure to return to work from jury duty and "the case was dragging on with no end in sight". The jury was not given an estimate of how long the trial would last by the usher, only that it was likely to go on for a long time - so he typed the defendants' names into Google in hope of figuring out when the case would end. He also said that the 1,800 figure had come from evidence or some other source.
However, the High Court dismissed his claims.
"We are sure he mentioned … a number of about 1,800 in relation to the number of the investors and that this number was found by him through research on the internet. His account of looking at what he described as the Google menu was an invention designed to minimise what he had done; there was no reference to it in the statement he made to the police," the judges trying Beard said.
The top beaks said every effort was made to try to warn jurors not to use the internet or social media in relation to the case, but it was difficult when there was no consistent system for explaining things to the jury.
They proposed inviting the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee (a Ministry of Justice panel attempting to modernise Blighty's courts) and the Judicial College (which trains our judges) to consider recommending a notice setting out what juries should and shouldn't do online and the consequences of disobedience. ®
Contempt of court cases are heard by a panel of two judges; one from the Divisional Court and one from the Court of Appeal. Although contempt is a criminal offence, cases follow the civil rules of procedure, where the test for guilt is whether “on the balance of probabilities” the defendant broke the law, rather than the higher criminal standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt”. No jury is involved in hearing contempt cases. Further reading is available, in non-legalese, via the Ministry of Justice (PDF).
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