08 December 2017

The Challenge of Keeping Jurors Honest in the Digital Age

Before a case begins, jurors are told not read anything about the case in which they are involved. Back in the day, this simply meant telling jurors to avoid newspaper or TV coverage of the case. Once the Internet become widely available, this meant that jurors were told not go home, turn on their computers and search for information on the case. The ability to do so surely made keeping jurors honest difficult, but it was still manageable. The advent of the smart phone, however, has complicated things. Having a mini computer in one's pocket that can immediately find information about the case is for some jurors too tempting, as the Law Society Gazette recently reported:
Although jurors are warned at the start of a trial not to research cases on the internet, Lord Justice Singh (Sir Rabinder Singh QC) told the Criminal Bar Association conference last week that the 'quick and easy use' of smartphones has made it impossible to guarantee that there will never be problems.
Singh said: 'When I tried a murder case at Lewes in 2014, there was a submission of no case to answer on behalf of one of the two defendants at half time. I rejected that submission. Of course all of that happened, as it must, in the absence of the jury. Very shortly afterwards my ruling was circulated on social media by someone who had been in the public gallery. Thankfully it was possible to have this material removed quite quickly and no one suggested that any member of the jury had seen it.'
In short, the Lord Justice is saying that information that the jury should not have seen was easily accessible to them, jeopardizing the proper process in the case. As an aside, the procedure "no case to answer" is similar to the American procedure of directed verdict.