View Full Version : Jurors cautioned about the dangers of internet chat

24-Jun-11, 08:06
Jurors warned-"Don't twitter about trials"

A SHERIFF has warned jurors against cyberspace chat about trials they are hearing.
Sheriff Andrew Berry prefaced his warning saying, that, not so long ago, it would never have been necessary to alert jurors to the potential social networking sites.
He highlighted the issue while he was giving his customary briefing to the jurors prior to two trials at Wick Sheriff Court, this week, about their roles and responsibility. Central to these, was not discussing jury business outside their own group- not even with their families or friends who might be curious as what had gone on in court when they arrived home after hearing a day’s evidence and might say something that could influence a juror’s view of the case.
Underlining the independence of the juror, he cautioned: “It is very important that you don’t discuss the case with anyone outwith your own group.”
Reiterating his concern prior to the second trial, the sheriff referred to a recent case, nationally, where a juror got into “terrible difficulty” with Facebook and went on: “I don’t want you to feel under any kind of pressure but using Twitter or Facebook for a discussion of the evidence outwith the court, would be wholly inappropriate”.
While Sheriff Berry did not refer to the sort of penalty, Facebook chat would attract for an errant juror, it would well be a prison term if the recent English case he instanced, is anything to go by.
It involved a juror, Joanne Fraill, who was jailed for eight months, after she caused a 6 million drugs trial to collapse, by chatting with a defendant on Facebook. The 40-year old disclosed sensitive details about jury discussions in her online conversation with Jamie Sewart who had just been acquitted in the case.
Fraill, a mother of three children and three stepchildren, also admitted conducting an internet search into Sewart’s boyfriend, Gary Knox, a co-defendant while the jury was still deliberating, the High Court in London heard, last week.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge warned that jurors, who misuse the internet during trials, must be jailed to protect the integrity of courts. He said that Fraill had disobeyed the "clear and unequivocal series of directions by the trial judge” not to search the internet in connection with the trial.
Fraill, the first juror ever to be prosecuted for contempt of court for using the internet, slumped on a table in front of her as Lord Judge handed down the sentence. He said that jurors flouting orders not to search social networking sites, were jeopardising the principle of jury trials.
Lord Judge added that doing so, “seriously undermines” a 500-year old principle underpinning jury trials, that a verdict must be based “solely on evidence heard in court”.
The case was brought by Attorney General Dominic Grieve, Q.C. after the collapse of the 10-week trial at Manchester Crown Court last August. Fraill of Blackley, Manchester, tracked down Sewart (34) on Facebook, the day after she had been cleared of conspiracy to supply heroin and amphetamines.
Under the pseudonym ‘Jo Smillie’ she sent a message saying: “You should know me- I’ve cried with you enough.” The pair exchanged 50 messages about the trial, defendants and the latest position of the jury. Sewart told Fraill she would receive “a nice pressie” if she won compensation after being held on remand and the pair agreed to become Facebook friends. The next morning , Sewart confessed to her solicitor, and the judge found Sewart in contempt of court but gave her a two-year suspended sentence.