Internet 'threat' to jury integrity
Modern technology risks damaging the integrity of criminal trials and the jury system, the most senior judge in England and Wales has warned.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said he was concerned at how easy it was for jurors to find out information about criminal cases on the internet and receive messages from those outside court.
His warning comes after convictions in three cases last year were deemed unsafe by the Court of Appeal following jury irregularities.
"In the context of current technology, we must be astute to preserve the integrity of jury trial and the jury system," Lord Judge said. "Modern technology does not come without risks."
Writing the introduction to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division's annual review of the legal year, he said: "I remain concerned at the ease with which a member of the jury can, by disobeying the judge's instructions, discover material which purports to contain accurate information relevant to an individual case or an individual defendant.
"I am also concerned that the use of technology enables those who are not members of the jury to communicate, in both directions."
It comes after the first juror to be prosecuted for contempt of court for using the internet was jailed for eight months in June. Joanne Fraill, 40, admitted using Facebook to exchange messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant who had been acquitted in a complex drug trial last year.
The jury was still deliberating in the cases of three other defendants. It was the third of four trials at Manchester Crown Court estimated to have cost £6 million, with Fraill's actions triggering the final retrial.
Fraill contacted Sewart, a mother-of-two from Bolton, Greater Manchester, after Sewart was cleared of conspiracy to supply drugs to express sympathy and wish her well. Attorney General Dominic Grieve brought proceedings for contempt of court against both women.
Fraill admitted breaching the Contempt of Court Act 1981 by using Facebook and also conducting an internet search into Sewart's boyfriend, Gary Knox, a co-defendant, while the jury was still deliberating in his case. Sewart denied contempt but was found guilty and received a suspended sentence.