England: new criminal offences created for jurors who unlawfully research trials
Judges will need to look at claims jurors have unlawfully searched for information on their trials online under new laws that have come into force.
New criminal offences of researching details of a case, sharing these details and disclosing details of jurors’ deliberations online have been created.
They come as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 and carry with them up to two years in prison.
Some judges have not welcomed the new rules, believing they will harm the relationship between the judge and jury.
One judge said: “Some judges who are very experienced in sitting with juries see the essential strength as being a partnership.
“Jurors are there in response to a call to perform a public duty.
“Many summonses go unanswered and we want to encourage more people to become involved in jury service.”
Judges said breaches of the rules are exceptional and that there was no need for parliament to interfere with “the special relationship” between the judge and jury.
The rules are meant to capture use of the internet by jurors and will require a judge to separate the juror who made the allegation from the one accused.
Judges may also be required to make an order for the removal of devices capable of accessing the internet before clarifying the allegation.
In addition, the judge will need to determine whether the behaviour can be dealt with under the common law of contempt and discharge of the juror or whether a criminal offence has occurred.
And, finally, the judge will need to determine whether the accuser juror or jury should be discharged.