Strong Warning Given as Judge Suspends Sentence for Juror Research
Fiona Robertson’s client was a juror on a trial concerning sexual offences when he Googled whether compensation was available to victims of sexual assaults and shared the results of his research with the rest of the jury. A note was sent to the trial Judge clarifying if such research could form part of the jury’s deliberations following which the jury were discharged and a retrial was ordered.
The defendant admitted conducting the research when confronted, admitted the offence in interview and pleaded guilty to two offences under the Juries Act.
In passing sentence HHJ Zeidman Q.C. emphasised it is essential that members of the public understand the huge responsibility of jury service and that a failure to comply with the rules prohibiting research into a case will inevitably result in an immediate prison sentence. The Judge observed there are clear policy reasons for such an approach.
In this case HHJ Zeidman Q.C. observed that the defendant’s actions resulted in inevitable wasted cost as the trial had to be abandoned but that this was insignificant in comparison to the serious harm and anxiety caused to a young witness in having to give evidence again.
The learned Judge observed that the instructions to the jury on not researching the case had not been as strong or wide as they could have been – this did not amount to a defence but made the defendant’s immediate owning up to his actions, full cooperation with the investigation and early guilty pleas all the more to his credit. HHJ Zeidman Q.C. observed that the defendant had behaved in an entirely honest way throughout the investigation and the numerous character references made it clear this incident was a complete abhorration from an otherwise kind and honest man. The Judge also noted it was to the defendant’s credit that despite his jury summons being received at a time his wife was very unwell he had accepted his civic responsibility and had not sought excusal or deferment. Finally HHJ Zeidman Q.C. noted his great concern that the defendant had lived with the inevitable strain of waiting to learn if charges would be brought for 17 months.
HHJ Zeiden Q.C. made it clear each of the mitigating factors in isolation would not have justified a suspension of the sentence but the cumulative effect made this an exceptional case in which a merciful approach could be taken. The defendant was sentenced to 7 months’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months with 100 hours of unpaid work.
Fiona was instructed by Grant Ambridge from Murrays Partnership.