A juror is to be prosecuted for allegedly researching a case on the internet as the Attorney-General, the Government?s chief law officer, signalled a crackdown on what he said is becoming a more widespread problem.
The move by Dominic Grieve, QC, comes as he warns jurors that such behaviour is unacceptable. Mr Grieve, who plans to prosecute the case himself, said that he was determined to reinforce the message put out by the judges that use of the internet in trials would not be tolerated. The Attorney-General added that the internet presented challenges for the criminal justice system and said that, in time, there may be a need for wider legislation to deal with aspects of it.
A juror was jailed for eight months this year after communicating over the internet with a defendant.
Last week Mr Grieve applied to the High Court for permission to bring contempt proceedings against Theodora Dallas, a juror in a trial at Luton Crown Court in July. It is alleged that she disobeyed an order not to conduct research on the internet. The case that she was trying ? a man charged with two others of causing grievous bodily harm ? was discharged and a retrial ordered, which has now taken place.
Ms Dallas, a university lecturer, allegedly looked up information deliberately about one of the defendants, a court was told last week by Louis Mably, counsel for for the Attorney-General.
?Next day, when the jury retired, she informed other members of the jury. Her conduct was reported to the court and the judge discharged Ms Dallas and the remaining jurors.? Her case will now be heard in the High Court ?as soon as possible?, Sir John Thomas, sitting with Mr Justice Wyn Williams, said, as such conduct, if proved, needed prompt attention to deter others.
Mr Grieve said that the internet presented challenges but it was only a ?lawless territory? to the extent that it made enforcing the contempt laws more difficult if ?people post things on the net abroad?.
He also dismissed ?tittle-tattle on Twitter? as necessarily posing a problem to enforcing the contempt laws. ?Ultimately, no one thought that the contempt of court rules, even before 1981, would prevent dinner party tittle-tattle and nor should we necessarily get too exercised about that,? he said. If, though, comments went ?viral? and ?reached by thousands or millions of people accessing a particular site or blog then of course we are going to be exercised about it?.
As for jurors using the internet, the courts had distinguished between researching cases and reading mainstream newspapers online, which was acceptable, he said. ?We must keep this in perspective,? Mr Grieve said.
?Judges have been given directions to jurors for a long time not to discuss cases with those who are outside the jury room. We know that long before the internet some failed in their duty occasionally and were punished for it.?
The Attorney-General went on to warn that there seemed to be a ?free-for-all? in the media, where it was believed that anything could be published, possibly because of the provisions that allowed a defendant?s ?bad character? to be introduced at trial.