21st February, 2013.
Many of us are staggered by the jury questions raised in the trial of Vicky Pryce (see here) but that shouldn’t leave anyone tempted to tweet or Facebook all about their jury experience: that is more than likely a criminal offence.
In the Chris Huhne / Vicky Pryce trial the jury asked a number of staggering questions. One of the more extreme was whether, “a juror [can] come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it either from the prosecution or defence?”.
The answer from the judge was a firm 'no'. And why? Because jurors take an oath: they swear before the court to try the case according to the evidence.
It’s a simple question to answer really. If you were on trial would you want the jury to listen to the evidence or make it up? In fact if they were going to ignore the evidence, why even have a trial at all. (No wonder the judge hadn’t seen anything like it in 30 years!).
But however staggered you are, do not be tempted to tweet or Facebook your jury experience: the oath is not the only part of an obligation as a juror.
Section 8(1) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes it a criminal offence – contempt of court – punishable with up to two years in prison, “to obtain, disclose or solicit any particulars of statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations in any legal proceedings.”
You might be tempted to think that the Crown surely won’t bother to prosecute otherwise law abiding jurors? But they do! Here, a juror jailed for disclosing details of deliberations. Here another jailed for contempt for using the internet to research the defendant’s past and here another juror jailed for using Facebook to contact a defendant.
In 1994 it came out that four members of a jury consulted a Ouija board to help convict a man of murder at Hove Crown Court. This was clearly beyond the realms of natural justice and the conviction was overturned, although the defendant was convicted a second time around and sentenced to life imprisonment. It took place at a bar in a hotel where the jury were staying and perhaps couldn’t have been part of the formal deliberations because not all jurors were together.
Although in this case it was reported after the event by a juror, the best time to raise any concerns – and so that a juror won’t be in contempt – is during the trial by way of note to the judge. Perhaps that way, jurors won’t feel the need to tweet or facebook their experience afterwards and risk jail time.
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