I am reasonably certain we can trust the judges to determine a matter based on the evidence put at trial – but can we be so certain about jurors? It would seem not and the judges, while directing juries not to look at Google, The Daily Mail, Facebook, twitter and other information on the net, seem to have given up the ghost. This does not bode well for our ‘hallowed jury trial system’ according to an interesting article in The Guardian this morning.
The Guardian reports: “Judges are “giving up” trying to stop juries using Google, Facebook and Twitter to access potentially false and prejudicial information about defendants, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, has warned.
High-profile criminal trials, such as that of Baby P, have been put at risk by material posted abroad but widely available online – and Macdonald admits that the consequences can be serious.
But although policing the accuracy of information on the internet is “an unmanageable task”, Macdonald said, it should not invalidate a trial if jurors are found to have conducted online research while a case is in progress.
“This is a serious point and we struggled with it, in criminal justice, for years trying to protect juries from what they might read about a case on the internet, material they weren’t supposed to know about while they were trying it,” Macdonald said.
“In essence, we’re finally giving up and just concluding that you have to expect juries to try cases fairly and they’re told to do that so I think this is a serious issue around privacy, because policing the internet is really, I think, an unmanageable task.
One of the ironies of freedom of speech and the internet making information more widely available, is the very real possibility that such freedom and freely available material can prejudice justice. Can anything be done other than asking reasonable jurors to behave honestly and fairly?
Ken Clarke to unveil plans for prisoners to work 40-hour week
The Guardian: Justice secretary to end enforced idleness in jails with some of cash earned going to victims
Political Conferences tend to be rather like X-Factor on television but for a specialised audience, and the speakers tend not, usually, to be subjected to a great deal of criticism by the attendees. Grandstanding is very much part of the ethos and ‘staff of life’ at these conferences so I am not sure whether we should take too seriously ideas being put forward by Ken Clarke, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, to put prisoners to work, give them 20 quid and plough the rest of the money into the system to pay for their detention and into a compensation fund for their victims. Sounds good – but, I suspect, this little wheeze will not be a main feature on the Ministry of Justice website in twelve months or so and will be consigned to the Google search archive. We shall see. For what it is worth – the thoughts of Chairman Ken are reported in the Guardian article. I’m not going to bother to quote – because this appears to be a bit of ‘red meat’ being chucked to carnivorous Tories who miss the old days of flogging, hanging and deportation to Australia and Benidorm. As always, I could be wrong. We shall see.