31 July 2013

Jurors caught out in court


Amber Melville-Brown
Partner | US

Being called to do jury service is a societal duty. And a privilege. Because it is a fundamental plank of our democracy that those charged with criminal offences should be judged not only by a professional judge but by a jury of their peers. These 'twelve good men (and women) and true' hold our liberty, livelihoods and reputations in their hands and accordingly, theirs is an important job requiring serious attention. A reminder of just how serious that role is to be taken has been brought home recently with the successful prosecution brought by the Attorney General against two jurors for failing in their duties. Kasim Davey was found guilty of contempt of court having, during the trial of a Defendant charged with having had sexual activity with a child, posted derogatory comments on his Facebook page calling the accused a ‘paedophile'. The Contempt of Court Act prohibits publication of material which creates a substantial risk of prejudice or impediment to the case. Meanwhile, Joseph Beard sought to do some extra curricula research into a Defendant charged with fraud, with a spot of Googling, the results of which he shared with his fellow jurors. Jurors are warned by the Judge at the outset of and intermittently during any case that they should only decide on the evidence given to them in Court and that they should not investigate the issues on the Internet. Both jurors were sentenced to two months in prison, ending up themselves as opposed to those they were trying, unexpectedly with their liberty withdrawn and their reputation in tatters. This may seem a little harsh. But, as my colleague Anne Davies points out, the custodial sentences are an indication of the seriousness with which the civil duty of jury service must be taken. And of the pitfalls and temptations offered in the online world through the Internet where communication is king and information is everywhere. Anne is a leading litigator in Withers' Corporate and Financial Crime team, and hence knows the crucial importance of jury members that know what is expected of them and rigorously carry out their roles. There has been some debate over the years over modernising the criminal justice system by removing the requirement of counsel and judges to wear wigs and gowns. In my view, these vestiges of a former era do well to remind us that while the world around us may be changing beyond recognition through modern technology, the roots of some of our important conventions should be respected and retained. And that includes the grave and important responsibility of the jury – unplugged for the length of the trial – within the confines of the old-fashioned and somewhat intimidating court room.

Amber Melville-Brown Partner | London

Category: Blog