Jury trial in the Facebook era

Posted: 3rd January 2013

facebookThe Court of Appeal has taken the extremely rare step of directing an inquiry by independent watchdog, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), into the fairness of a criminal trial after it emerged that the defendant had 22 mutual Facebook ‘friends’ with a member of the jury.

In a case which raises question marks over the impartiality of trial by jury amidst the torrent of the social media, the defendant’s lawyers argue that her links to the juror gave rise to at least an appearance of bias and that her conviction for an offence of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm should be overturned.

The trial judge had refused to discharge the juror after she admitted knowing the landlady of a pub where the defendant had first confronted the victim of the alleged attack. Since the trial, the defendant’s lawyers argue that a series of other ‘small town’ links have been revealed between the defendant and the juror.

There was evidence that the juror had written about her court duty on Facebook and had ‘liked’ a comment by a friend, which stated: ‘If it was me, I would send them all down’. It had also emerged that the landlady had managed another pub where the defendant had committed previous criminal damage and violent disorder offences.

As well as the Facebook connection, it had come out since the trial that the juror's daughter had witnessed the defendant’s arrest and was a friend of a member of the defendant’s family. Witness statements had also revealed that the juror had previously drunk at the same pub and had formerly lived near the defendant.

Mr Justice Kenneth Parker said: ‘It is alleged in witness statements that there is significant Facebook linkage between the juror in question and the defendant. At the moment that linkage seems indirect but, nonetheless, it is submitted that it is substantial. In the circumstances we have decided to adjourn the appeal and we also believe that it is appropriate in this case that the matter be referred to the CCRC in order that it should be able to carry out an investigation.’