Stay off the Net, Juries Warned

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 16, 2011 | Go to article overview

Stay off the Net, Juries Warned


Byline: Paul Cheston Courts Correspondent

BRITAIN'S top judge today issued a warning to all jurors not to use the internet as he jailed a woman who contacted a defendant on Facebook.

The Lord Chief Justice said the modern habit of using social networking sites was putting ancient principles of justice at risk.

Lord Judge spoke out as he sent mother-of-three Joanne Fraill to prison for eight months after she admitted contempt of court.

Fraill also confessed that she had used the internet to find more information on another defendant during the trial. Lord Judge told her she had broken the fundamental law underpinning the jury system dating back to the reign of Henry VII. Fraill, 40, of Manchester, sobbed as she was led to the cells at the High Court.

She had exchanged online messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, who had just been acquitted in a series of drug trials costing [pounds sterling]6 million.

Sewart, from Bolton, was the partner of codefendant Gary Knox and asked Fraill about other charges the jury was still deliberating. Fraill had told her over the internet: "Cant get anywaone to go either no one budging pleeeeeese dont say anyhting cause jamie they could call mmiss trial and i will get 4cked toO."

Today Lord Judge said that longestablished common law principles which underpin the jury system "demand that a jury verdict is based solely on evidence heard in court".

He said: "As long ago as the reign of Henry VII, the jurors were fined both for disobedience to the orders of the judge and also for discussions by them about the case they were trying with an external party.

"In 2011 the internet is inculcated as a matter of habit into many members of the community. "But the revolution in methods of communication cannot change these essential principles.

"The problem therefore is not the internet. The potential problems arise from the activities of jurors who disregard the long-established principles which underpin the right of every citizen to a fair trial."

He added: "If jurors make their own inquiries into aspects of trials with which they are concerned, the jury system as we know it -- so precious to the administration of criminal justice in this country -- will be seriously undermined and what is more the public confidence on which it depends will be shaken."

The judge said Fraill "disobeyed the clear and unequivocal series of directions by the trial judge" banning use of the internet.

He added: "Her conduct in visiting the internet repeatedly was directly contrary to her juror's oath and her contact with the acquitted defendant, plus her repeated searches on the internet, constituted flagrant breaches of the judge's orders for the proper conduct of the trial. …

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