The jury system is under threat according to a leading legal figure – because of some jurors’ use of social networking sites.
Anyone who has been called for jury duty will know that jurors are warned not to discuss the case they sit on with anyone outside the jury room, and to use only facts they hear in evidence when it comes time to deliberate.
But there have been cases where these warnings have not been heeded. Earlier this year a judge in Manchester had to dismiss a jury and restart a trial after a juror posted details of the case on Facebook and asked friends, “Did he do it?”
There have been other occasions where jurors have apparently used on line materials to research issues they may not be familiar with, rather than relying on the testimony they hear. A friend of mine heard a fellow juror question expert testimony on the basis that she had read something different on Wikipedia.
And it is also possible for jurors to be influenced by on line campaigns for a defendant’s innocence.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge (yes, that’s his name), raised major concerns about the use of the internet by jurors, stating that, “If the jury system is to survive as the system for a fair trial, the misuse of the internet by jurors must stop.”
He also said that judges need to warn jurors in the strongest terms not to use the internet to research cases or to give details of cases to friends. And Lord Judge wants the notice in jury rooms to be amended to include a warning that any online research could amount to a contempt of court.
The right to trial by a jury of our peers is a fundamental one, and anything that threatens this right is a serious issue. So if jurors are taking into account information they have obtained from somewhere other than the courtroom, judges have to act.
If they don’t we will see defence lawyers seeking retrials if misuse of online information can be proven. This would be expensive and also cause distress to everyone involved in the case.
It was also reported that Lord Judge has warned that schools were failing to train children to “sit still and listen for prolonged periods”, an essential skill for jurors!