An easy-to-understand, illustrative guide to help jurors understand their responsibilities is in the works, the Gazette can reveal. The case for such a guide was reinforced today with revelations that a juror caused a stabbing trial to collapse after she was caught looking up the defendant on the web.
According to a post on the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association website, Professor Cheryl Thomas, director of the UCL Jury Project, has been asked by the lord chief justice and Criminal Procedure Rule Committee to conduct tests of a new notice to jurors to improve their understanding of their obligations and what they are prohibited from doing.
The juror notice states that it is illegal for jurors 'to look for any information at all about your case on the internet or anywhere else during the trial or to have anyone else look for you'.
Jurors cannot look for any information about: any person involved in the case, including the judge and legal teams; the law and legal terms used in the case; the crime or crime scene; and court procedures.
Jurors should 'not pay any attention' to any news stories they see or hear about their case.
Press reports today reveal that juror Catherine Baguley looked up a suspect in a trial on her phone during a break in proceedings. At Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester, the 60-year-old admitted a misconduct offence under the Juries Act 1974 and received a four-month prison sentence suspended for a year.
In the juror notice being developed, two rules are outlined that every juror must follow about what they can discuss while the trial is going on and after the trial is over. They are warned that it is illegal for anyone who is not on the jury to try to speak to them about the trial.
The notice signposts jurors to the Samaritans charity if they feel upset about anything to do with the case.
Every juror would be handed a personal copy of the 'very clear, simple and explanatory notice' at the end of the judge's opening remarks, the CLSA's post states.
During initial tests at the Central Criminal Court, jurors' comprehension - measured by anonymous surveys conducted with sworn jurors prior to the pilot and during the pilot - is believed to have improved dramatically.
'On the face of it, the cost to HMCTS of producing the new notice, and any small amount of extra time needed to introduce it to jurors, should be amply outweighed by a reduction in the number of retrials and appeals caused by ill-informed conduct by a juror,' the post states.
Further pilots will take place at crown court centres between June and September. The process will be used at the Old Bailey. If successful, the scheme is expected to be adopted throughout England and Wales in the autumn.
The post on the CLSA's website states that the impetus for the notice is a High Court case last year 'in and after which the court called for action to improve jurors' understanding of, in particular, why it was wrong and unfair to research a case online and share any such research with fellow jurors'.
However, in 2012, then lord chief justice Lord Judge expressed concerns.
Introducing the Court of Appeal (criminal division) 2011/2012 report, Judge said: 'The court continues to be concerned by the long and short term issue of the way in which modern technology will impinge on trial by jury. There have been an increasing number of cases in which grounds of appeal against conviction have featured allegations of jury impropriety relating to the misuse of technology.'