Categorized | Criminal Justice

Juries and the Internet

Juries and the Internet

It is always an event when the Lord Chief Justice reveals his views on the judicial system and so it was when the new holder of the office, Lord Judge of Draycote, addressed the University of Hertfordshire on 4 November. The title of his speech was “The Criminal Justice system in England and Wales – time for change?” and the full text can be found at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/docs/speeches/lcj-speech-uni-hertfordshire-041108.pdf

Among many aspects considered was the relationship between the internet and the jury system. Lord Judge’s concerns are twofold. Firstly the availability of the internet to jurors. At the outset of a trial, judges direct the jury not to look at the internet in connection with the trial. They must reach their verdict only on the basis of what they hear in the courtroom. But, inevitably, from time to time an individual juror will disregard the direction and make his own private enquiries. Lord Judge referred specifically to a recent case when a juror went online using a Blackberry during a rape case, causing the conviction to be quashed. And he is not just concerned with today, “but the technology which will be available to our successors in, say, 2020 or 2025. I cannot begin to imagine the extent of the changes which lie ahead.”

His second concern is the extent to which internet culture is inimical to the traditional jury system. “Our system of jury trials depends on twelve good men and women and true coming to court and listening to the case. Orality is the crucial ingredient of the adversarial system. Witness speak and answer questions. Counsel speak and address the jury. Judges speak and give directions.” He described how the young get much information from the internet, how they consult and refer to it. “They are not listening. They are reading.” The potential problem he identifies is whether, learning as they do in this way, they will be accustomed to listening for prolonged periods. “What will happen to our oral tradition? Should it, will it, be forced to change?”

Writing in “The Guardian” Marcel Berlins wonders if the jury system can survive the internet. Accepting the validity of Lord Judge’s observations, he points out that although members of the internet generation are currently in the minority of today’s juries, progress is relentless, and it will not be long before they start to dominate them. He poses the question “what can be done to convey the evidence during a trial in a more palatable way, without destroying the essence of the jury system?”

Neither he nor the Lord Chief Justice (“I do not have solutions”) come up with answers.

This post was written by:

- who has written 460 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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