Jurors who search for information beyond evidence presented in court should be prosecuted for a criminal offence rather than being dealt with by contempt of court procedures, the Law Commission has recommended.
Currently the limits on what jurors can do are set by the trial judge in each case. This leads to inconsistency and means the judge is responsible for setting the boundaries of what is a criminal offence in all but name, said the government’s advisory body in its Contempt of Court: Juror Misconduct and Internet Publications report, which recommends a package of reforms to contempt of court laws.
Professor David Ormerod QC, the Law Commissioner leading on the project, said the recommendation would lead to greater consistency as to what jurors can expect. ‘Putting this prohibition on a statutory footing would bring greater clarity and certainty for both courts and juries. Members of the jury would know the rules, the wrongdoing could be prosecuted in the same way as other crimes,’ he said.
The commission’s report also recommends dealing more ‘proportionately’ with prejudicial information published online before criminal proceedings become active. The onus is currently on the publisher to know that proceedings are active and to take down potentially prejudicial information.
Under the body’s proposals, publishers would be exempt from liability, where information is published before proceedings become active. The material would only have to be removed under orders from the attorney general.
The commission additionally recommends an extension of the defences available to jurors who express concerns that a miscarriage of justice occurred after a trial has ended; and an exception to enable approved researchers to investigate how juries carry out deliberations.
Under the current law it is not permitted to ask jurors about any aspect of their deliberations.
Last week the attorney general published advisory notes to help prevent people committing contempt of court by commenting on social media.