Two jurors imprisoned for internet research/Facebook messages

On 23 July 2013, two men, Mr Davey and Mr Beard, were despite their protestations of innocence, found to have committed contempt of court. The transcript of that hearing is available here. On 29 July 2013, they were sentenced to two months’ immediate custody each for contempt of court.

The proceedings related to activity amounting to a real risk of interference with the administration of justice arising out of the two men’s activities whist serving as jurors in criminal trials. The two cases were unrelated save for these proceedings.

Mr Davey

Davey, aged 20 when summoned to serve on a jury, had a Facebook account with 400 friends.

On his arrival at court Mr Davey, like the other jurors, was shown the jury video. It included statements in the following terms:

“Please do not discuss the details of the trial with anyone other than your fellow jurors, not even your family.”

“Do not speak to anyone at all about the cases you hear.”

“Do not use social networking sites to post any aspects of your jury service.”

At the end of his first day at the Crown Court at Wood Green, he posted the following message to his Facebook profile:

“Woooow I wasn’t expecting to be in a jury Deciding a paedophile’s fate, I’ve always wanted to Fuck up a paedophile & now I’m within the law!”

Mr Davey was discharged and the case continued with 11 jurors. The matter was then investigated by the police.

The Court found that this constituted a contempt of court.

Mr Beard

Beard was aged 29 when summoned for jury service at the Crown Court at Kingston upon Thames. He was selected to sit on a long trial expected to last about 2 months. About 5.5 weeks into the trial, the following (taken from the transcript) came to the Court’s attention:

There were various conversations going on [amongst the jury], and in the conversation to which [Mr Sewell, a juror] was a party a question was asked as to how many investor witnesses would be heard from. One of the other members of the jury, Mr Beard, stated that the number of investors affected was about 1,800, although Mr Sewell did not recall the precise number. Mr Sewell asked Mr Beard where that figure came from as he was concerned he had missed some evidence. Mr Beard then stated that he had done a search on the internet through Google using the name of the operation and he got the figure that way. Mr Sewell then said “No, No, No, No! Don’t tell me about that. You shouldn’t have done that. I don’t want to hear about it.”

The jury was discharged. The cost of the defence amounted to £119,712 and the prosecution costs had been between £190,000 and £200,000.

The Attorney-General

The Attorney 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.

Equally, the case of Kasim Davey shows that jurors must follow the directions given to them by the trial judge not to discuss the case outside the jury room, including discussions and posts on the internet.

Sentence

Both were sentenced to 2 months’ immediate custody. A transcript of the sentence is thus far unavailable. We know that no orders for costs were made.

Comment

Many on Twitter were shocked by the imposition of immediate custodial sentence. The courts take threats to the administration of justice very seriously. This can be seen by the ‘usual’ sentence for perverting the course of justice (e.g. Chris Huhne), misconduct in public office (e.g. police officers accessing the PNC for criminal purposes), perjury (e.g. Lord Archer) and contempt of court (see HM Att-Gen v Dallas).

Some are of the view that a custodial sentence is wholly unsuitable and totally unnecessary in cases like this. They cite the fact that the offenders are neither violent nor sexual offenders, and neither are ‘dangerous’ so as to pose a threat to the public.

Critics of such a view is that offences against the administration of justice must be dealt with robustly; any sentence for such an offence which is perceived as soft could mark the collapse of the system all together. Without respect for the juror’s oath or affirmation, it could become worthless. For example, if the penalty for witness intimidation isn’t that great, on a cost/benefit analysis it may be worth the risk of being caught.

Mr Davey and Mr Beard will have approximately one month in which to ponder that issue. They probably won’t make the same mistake again.

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5 thoughts on “Two jurors imprisoned for internet research/Facebook messages

  1. Andrew

    Two months, as you rightly say, not two years, as you wrongly say. I imagine about two or three weeks in practice. “The clang of the gates” – and quite right too.

    Reply
  2. ObiterJ

    They won’t make the same mistake again and neither will they be given the opportunity since it is doubtful that either would ever be called for jury service again. Is it not time that there was some lateral thinking in this internet age? It is a natural enough thing for many people to look at the internet. Perhaps we really ought to be trusting jurors more to abide by their oath and decide solely on the evidence adduced in court.

    Reply
    1. Lyndon Harris Post author

      Well they are prohibited from sitting on a jury for a period of 10 years from their conviction. Thereafter they are eligible so they may well be called. Certainly the younger of the two has a better chance.

      I find ‘Perhaps we really ought to be trusting jurors more to abide by their oath and decide solely on the evidence adduced in court.’ an interesting comment. Doesn’t this case, and Att-Gen v Fraill, and Att-Gen v Dallas demonstrate that we cannot trust them completely?

      Reply
  3. Pingback: James Baines gets suspended sentence for ‘Bulger’ tweet | UK Criminal Law Blog

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