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Jurors and Contempt of Court

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In the recent, well-publicised, case of HM Attorney General v Fraill & Anor [2011] EWCH 1629 (Admin), the Divisional Court found a juror, Joanne Fraill, guilty of contempt of court after she admitted communicating by Facebook and email with one of the accused.

Contempt of Court has a long common law history. In addition, a specific statutory offence is created by the Contempt of Court Act 1981, s 8
“(1) …, it is a contempt of court to obtain, disclose or solicit any particulars of statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations in any legal proceedings”.

The Court, led by the Lord Chief Justice, gave the rationale for the restrictions on communicating information about the deliberations of the jury : “Every member of the jury is entitled in the course of jury deliberations to express his or her views with the utmost frankness and clarity. Beyond the obvious courtesy of the give and take of discussion, there are no degrees or limitations of the views which may be expressed. This process is essential to the way in which juries work towards and finally arrive at their verdicts. Our arrangements proceed on the basis that everything that has been said in the course of these discussions must remain confidential to the members of the jury. And because they remain confidential to the jury, and are known to be so, the exchange of frank views and opinions is encouraged. No one is inhibited by the thought that the expression of an unpopular view, and its source, may become public knowledge.”

Further, on being sworn in, jurors promise to “give true verdicts according to the evidence”. In R v Thompson [2010] EWCA Crim 1623 the Lord Chief Justice giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal had reaffirmed that a “verdict must be reached, according to the jury oath in accordance with the evidence” and added that ” the introduction of extraneous material, that is non-evidential material, constitutes an irregularity. Examples…include telephone calls into or out of the jury room … and in recent years, information derived by one or more jurors from the internet.”

Joanne Fraill had also admitted having made internet searches for names involved in the proceedings.

The Court took account of mitigating factors including her immediate admission, apology and co-operation with the investigation into her conduct. Nevertheless Fraill received an 8 month immediate custodial sentence.