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2 Jurors Jailed for Contempt of Court

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  1. Acorn Newsbot

    Acorn Newsbot Junior Member

    Jan 2006
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    In two unrelated cases this week, jurors have been jailed for using the Internet inappropriately whilst hearing active court cases. During a hearing at the High Court, both men were found to be in contempt of court, as per the Contempt of Court Act 1981, for breaching the judge’s instructions by which jurors are bound to hear cases.

    Facebook status update earns a jail term

    21 year-old Kasim Davey was handed a two-month sentence for posting a prejudicial status update on his Facebook page regarding the case he was on. At the beginning of the case, jurors were warned not to discuss the case with anyone who was not a member of the jury. However, Davey posted in December 2012, "Woooow I wasn't expecting to be in a jury Deciding a paedophile's fate, I've always wanted to F*** up a paedophile & now I'm within the law!"


    During the High Court Hearing, Davey unsuccessfully argued that the judge had simply warned against using the Internet to research case details, and that his status update was “spontaneous surprise at the kind of case I was on.” However, the two judges hearing Davey’s own case decided that the status update clearly indicated his intention to use his pre-existing prejudices to decide the case.

    Googler goes to jail

    The other defendant in the High Court hearing, 29 year-old Joseph Beard, also received a two-month sentence for using the Internet to research details of the fraud case that he was on. Beard was reported to the judge hearing the fraud trial after telling other jurors personal information about the defendants that had not been presented in court.


    At his own trial, Beard argued that he had been searching the web trying to find out how long a fraud trial would normally last, because he was worried his jury duty would “drag on”. However, Beard had instead searched for extra information about the case and number of alleged fraud victims involved. Once Beard’s actions came to light, the trial collapsed, forcing a retrial with a new jury at a later date.


    Commenting on Beard’s conviction, the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, said, “Jurors who use the internet to research a case undermine justice. It creates a risk that the defendant will be convicted or acquitted, not on the evidence, but on unchallenged and untested material discovered by the juror.”

    Standard warnings issued

    At the outset of any jury trial, the judge issues several standard directions and instructions to the twelve people who make up the jury. All jurors are warned that they must not discuss the details of the case with anyone apart from the other 11 jurors on their case. Similarly, jurors are informed that any decision regarding guilt or innocence can only be based on the information presented in court; they must not research the case using newspapers or the Internet, or seek background information that might otherwise affect their decision.

    Not the first instance

    The use of Facebook was a major factor in the first ever social media inspired contempt of court jailing. In June 2011, Joanne Fraill was handed an eight month sentence after contacting a defendant in the case she was on via Facebook. Fraill admitted discussing details of the case and the jury’s deliberations, as well as researching the case itself online.


    In January 2012, former academic Dr Theodora Dallas received a six-month sentence, also for contempt of court. Dallas had “deliberately disobeyed” the trial judge’s instructions not to search the Internet, and passed on information about the defendant’s previous criminal history to other jurors. Dallas was also denied permission to appeal her conviction at the Supreme Court, underlining the seriousness with which contempt of court is regarded by the British legal system.

    A wider problem?

    Social networking and searching the Internet for information is now ingrained in British culture, making the actions of each of the people mentioned here somewhat understandable, despite the warnings they received from the judges presiding over the trials on which they were sitting. However, a study published in 2010 by Professor Cheryl Thomas suggests that the problem of researching cases online may be more common than many people realise. According to Thomas’s research, around 12% of jurors in high-profile cases were searching the web for more information about the defendant or the circumstances of the case.


    The Law Commission, which reviews the British legal system and proposes changes where appropriate, has been investigating solutions to reduce cases of jurors being jailed for contempt of court. Among its most recent proposals is confiscating mobile phones and Internet-enabled devices from jurors as they enter court. There are also suggestions that social network providers such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ could be enlisted to restrict jurors’ access, or to monitor their communications closely whilst they carry out their duties.


    In the meantime, trial judges will continue to issue clear instructions to jurors about their use of the Internet and social networks. The responsibility for adhering to the Contempt of Court Act will also remain with the juror.

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