Jurors who are found to be researching cases on the internet will be jailed for up to two years, under a new criminal offence announced today.
The new law, revealed in Parliament, will make it illegal for jurors to share online information with fellow jurors or decide a case on the basis of evidence not heard in court, the Evening Standard has reported.
The maximum two-year prison sentence, revealed by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling as part of a new criminal justice bill, will also apply to members who post messages on social media sites about cases or take part in other prohibited conduct.
Currently, jurors can be jailed for contempt of court if they break secrecy rules. However, Mr Grayling has now made jury misconduct a specific criminal offence following a report by the government’s Law Commission which warned that the existing contempt rules were confusing and inconsistent, the Standard reported.
Jury misconduct will make four types of activity an offence, which include disclosing details of juror deliberation, researching details of a case, including on the internet, and sharing details of any findings with other jurors.
Mr Grayling’s announcement today came as he announced a host of other reforms in a new Criminal Justice and Courts Bill published in Parliament.
The new criminal offence follows examples of jurors being jailed for contempt, including Theodora Dallas, 36, who told fellow jurors at Luton Crown Court a defendant accused of assault had been charged with rape previously. The 2011 trial had to be abandoned and Ms Dallas was jailed for six months for contempt.