Manchester Juror Jailed Over Facebook Defendant Contact

16 June 2011, 11:02

A Manchester juror's been handed an eight months prison sentence after pleading guilty to contempt of court.

Joanne Fraill is the first to be jailed for using the internet to contact a defendant.

The 40 year old admitted at London's High Court using Facebook to exchange messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant already acquitted in an ongoing multimillion-pound drug trial in Manchester last year.

Fraill, from Blackley, also admitted conducting an internet search into Sewart's boyfriend, Gary Knox, a co-defendant, while the jury was still deliberating.

Sewart was given a two-month sentence suspended for two years after being found guilty of contempt.

The Lord Chief Justice emphasised today that jurors using the internet to do their own research during a trial seriously undermined the country's 'precious' jury system.

Lord Judge stressed that misuse of the internet in this way 'is always a most serious irregularity and contempt'.

Those who commit contempt of court face a maximum sentence of two years and a 'custodial sentence is virtually inevitable'.

The judge made his comments as he imposed an immediate eight month sentence on 40-year-old Joanne Fraill, from Manchester, who admitted using Facebook to exchange messages with a defendant already acquitted in a drug trial last year.

He said: 'Judges, no less than anyone else, are well aware of and use modern technology in the course of their work.

'The internet is a modern means of communication. Modern technology, and means of communication, are advancing at an ever increasing speed.

'We are aware that reference to the internet is inculcated as a matter of habit into many members of the community and no doubt that habit will grow.'

But he stressed: 'We must however be entirely unequivocal.

'We emphasise, even if we do so by means of repetition, that if jurors make their own inquiries into aspects of the trials with which they are concerned, the jury system as we know it, so precious to the administration of criminal justice in this country, will be seriously undermined and what is more, the public confidence on which it depends will be shaken.'

Lord Judge added: 'The jury's deliberations, and ultimately their verdict, must be based - and exclusively based - on the evidence given in court, a principle which applies as much to communication with the internet as it does to discussions by members of the jury with individuals in and around, and sometimes outside, the precincts of the court.'

The judge said that the 'revolution in methods of communication cannot change these essential principles'.

Lord Judge announced: 'The problem therefore is not the internet: the potential problems arise from the activities of jurors who disregard the long established principles which underpin the right of every citizen to a fair trial.'

Information provided by the internet was not evidence and the use of it by a juror 'exposes him to the risk of being influenced, even unconsciously, by whatever emerges'.

He said: 'This offends our long held belief that justice requires that both sides in a criminal trial should know and be able to address or answer any material - particularly material which appears adverse to them - which may influence the verdict.'

Fraill's solicitor, Damian Wall, said after the hearing that his client was 'deeply sorry'.

'Mrs Fraill is deeply sorry for her actions that led to these proceedings,' said Mr Wall.

'Her remorse was evident to the court and reflected in the judgment. She is totally devastated at what has happened, and deeply regrets the impact her actions have had, and will continue to have, upon her family.

'The court has heard evidence which showed that Mrs Fraill clearly struggled from the rigours of having to cope with a long and serious case.

'Mrs Fraill did not volunteer to be a juror, rather she undertook her public duty.

'She has been asked whether or not she regrets what she did, and through me she wants to say that she truly regrets what she did, and that she recognises that the role of a juror has always been, and remains, fundamental to achieving justice in each case.

'Mrs Fraill does not seek, in any way, to diminish the seriousness of her actions, rather she hopes that the example that has been set in this case will help prevent any other person undertaking jury service from behaving in the way that she did.'

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