Jurors could face new Contempt of Court crime

 
Juror Theodora Dallas University lecturer Theodora Dallas was given a jail sentence for online research

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Jurors who deliberately research a case online should face criminal charges, the government’s law reform body for England and Wales says.

Currently judges set out what jurors in individual cases must not do and those breaking the rules can be jailed by the civil courts for contempt of court.

The Law Commission says this leads to inconsistency and confusion - it wants Parliament to set out standard rules for jurors and make breaches a crime.

Ministers will now discuss the plans.

Professor David Ormerod, the law commissioner heading the contempt project, said: "Members of the jury would know the rules, the wrongdoing would be prosecuted in the same way as other crimes, and jurors accused of contempt would benefit from the normal protections of the criminal trial process."

School lessons

Other recommendations made in the commission's report include:

  • Giving judges statutory powers to remove internet-enabled devices from jurors
  • Teaching school children about the role and importance of jury service
  • Amending the current oath taken by jurors to include an agreement to base the verdict only on evidence presented in court and not to seek or disclose evidence about the case

The commission also says jurors should be clearly protected to allow them to speak out if they have suspicions of wrongdoing that only emerge after a case has finished.

Analysis

The current law of contempt seeks to preserve not only the sanctity of the jury room, but the sanctity of each individual juror's mind for the entire duration of the trial, from the polluting effects of prejudicial material. And it seeks to do that in an age in which jurors can access that material instantly, online via a bewildering range of internet-enabled devices.

Some will feel that clarifying or beefing up the law of contempt smacks of King Canute trying to hold back the tide of information technology. Many say that it is time to take a different approach whereby the judge gives the jury a strong direction to try the case only on the evidence put before them in court.

However, the danger of jurors being exposed to prejudicial material is real. If a juror reads it online, and the court is unaware, the material cannot be tested in court. That is why the Law Commission's proposals are geared to maintain the law of contempt and keep criminal trials free of prejudicial material.

There is also a proposal to create an exception to the ban on asking jurors about their deliberations so approved researchers can investigate how juries reach decisions.

The Law Commission would also like to see Contempt of Court laws changed to avoid pursuing the media for material published before a trial.

This would include news reports detailing allegations about people who had not been arrested or charged at the time of publication.

Rape allegation

Responding to the report, Attorney General Dominic Grieve said: "Juror contempt is a serious risk to justice but people are often not aware of the consequences."

He hoped the proposal to make it an offence for jurors to search for information about their case online would reduce the need for future prosecutions, he added.

The report comes after a number of jurors have faced proceedings for contempt.

In January last year, university lecturer Dr Theodora Dallas was jailed for six months after telling fellow jurors that she had discovered the defendant in their case had once been accused of rape.

Last week, the 36-year-old from Luton - who claimed the judge’s instructions had not been clear - said she would take her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

 
Dominic Casciani, Home affairs correspondent Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 449.

    At start of the jury system, members of the jury were supposed to decide solely on their own knowledge and were not allowed to be presented with information in the court. It was only gradually over several centuries that it changed to that they could only ONLY decide on what the two, duelling, lawyers chose to put to them. It might be time to revisit that - too many miscarriages of justice?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 448.

    I'm left wondering who on earth would want to be on a jury, I wouldn't be at all happy with a judge "taking away" my phone Tablets and PC's Their my livelihood, and my hobby, Perhaps jurors could be gagged, blindfolded and locked away so they wouldn't know what is being said in the World - get real here just because its in the papers (or on the BBC!) doesn't mean its true.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 447.

    446 Baffled. The link doesnt help much. It doesn't say why skimming the internet is wrong. Just that it is illegal.

    I think internetting by jurors is wrong because the evidence isn't accountable as it would be if a barrrister put it forward in court. Not that a barrister would...

    Comments?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 446.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 445.

    The Trial By Your Peers idea is far from new but what we have now is far better than it was 200 years ago when you were tried by a jury of the landed gentry who were more likely to find you guilty regardless. Picking people at random from across society is still better than that surely? And to answer the question about juries in lockdown: in some high profile trials, this is exactly what happens.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 444.

    It's depressing that so many potential jurors are quite happy to be directed to find a defendant guilty soley on evidence presented.

    We had 13 years of thought-crime and other nonsense being invented and put on the statute books by a mandate of only 31% of the potential voters and yet jurors don't realise they have the power to reject such nonsense in court in the face of all 'evidence'.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 443.

    if a case somehow rested on the proposition that 2+2=4, then one lawyer would present expert testimony (dr. dingbat and professer teapot) that 2 and 2 are 22, the other bring forward a legal technicality that 2,2 = 2.2. Both with a completely straight face. If you're baaffled by that argument - pity the poor juror who acquits on the balance of evidence in court',

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 442.

    Some publicity is good publicity- new witnesses appear. But, in recent years, I've be sickened by the relentless way in which some minor celebrities have been hounded over offences committed decades ago. I'm not convinced that all of these cases are credible. I am convinced that public feeling- whipped up by press- has influenced the DPP's decision to proceed with prosecutions. This is a problem.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 441.

    We need 'sub judice' as it used to be applied. Nothing about a case whatever should appear anywhere after a charge related to the case is made. No names, no interviews with tearful victims, no drawings of the crime scene, nothing. On pain of imprisonment for the editors, uk internet sites included. Interests of justice trump freedom of prurient speculation. A full report can be given after result

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 440.

    @ Frankslad.

    You knew exactly what I meant; stop playing silly games.

    The law is being used to put pressure on jurors. Many will think "Not for me" and try anything to opt out. Eventually the pool will shrink to the point where juries are not feasible. At that time the State will control the justice system.

    If you are happy with that, fine, but it's not for me.

    Good night.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 439.

    438 - Leoisthefirst -
    let's be clear here - it's NOT contempt of court for going on the internet - it's only contempt IF you go on the internet to research the case under consideration.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 438.

    @ Frankslad.

    The "new threat" is jail for Contempt of Court for going on the Internet. The big difference that has from buying a paper or listening to the news or talking, is that with our monitoring abilities, it can be proved.

    Jurors have always done it, and their info does not always come from the DM or Sun, but they are not bad options to support your argument..

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 437.

    435 - Leoisthefirst -

    'dare to gain information about the accused' ?

    but where from? - the Daily Mail website? the Socialist Worker website? -

    The whole point about a court trial is that - as flawed as it well may be - it allows both sides to present their case the same way. In your model - it depends on which sites jurors choose to access - do you think you'd get a more balanced judgement?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 436.

    so if i get chosen i cant use the internet? why not say cant watch tv, read paper, listen radio, talk to friends i am sorry but i need internet but at least i have a (2nd) good excuse not to sit on jury will judges wake up and smell the 21st centry

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 435.

    @427 Faith.

    Thanks for the support, but it appears that the majority are more than happy for the State to threaten jurors should they dare to attempt to gain information about the accused, and victims, which should be made available to them during trial. Information relevant to the proceedings should be open to all.

    Ratings: Who really cares.... the BBC manipulates them anyway.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 434.

    Er, dear moderator, sorry, but what on earth was wrong with 432 spindoctor? If one expresses an opinion about our distrust of society, it is not offensive or incitement to hatred.. BBC + Freedom of speech = False hope.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 433.

    re 430 Leoisthefirst -
    what do you mean by 'new threats'?

    It has been the case for generations that you are called for jury service, and don't have the 'choice' - it's not new!
    No - I don't want state appointed courts - BUT you seem to want independent non state appointed courts only if people choose to take part in them on their whim. How does that work??

  • Comment number 432.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 431.

    @424. Leodisthefirst .. As said, I agree with you re Jury selection but re your 'I don't know who marked me down', I watch rating quite carefully, and I know there are pressure groups that manipulate. I also doubt very much you voted on anyone. I know a good quote .. All that is necessary for the triumph of [trolls] is that good men do nothing. So if the only people who rate are "disagreers"...?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 430.

    @426 Frankslad

    With these new "threats" more people than ever will think up "excuses" not to be jurors.

    It will then only be a small step for TPTB to claim that the jury system does not work and the only way to go is with Judge and Magistrate only courts.

    Do you really want a system where justice decision makers are appointed by the State?

 

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