A growing number of recent decisions in courts across the globe have commented on the concerns raised by the explosion in social media use by jurors in trials.
Recently England’s most senior judge commented extensively on the concerns in a trial where an overzealous juror posted details of the case, closing her summary with the question, “Did he do it?”. Now I’ve felt somewhat humbled by having to make life-altering submissions before a panel of twelve of my client’s peers, but pleading my case to the entire internet? That’s an audience that could overwhelm even the savviest advocate.
The judge in this case summarized the nub of the problem saying, “We cannot stop people tweeting, but if jurors look at such material, the risks to the fairness of the trial will be very serious, and ultimately the openness of the trial process on which we all rely, would be damaged.” He then went on to urge trial judges to caution jurors in the strongest possible terms not to use the internet to research or comment upon the cases they are sitting on. The time has come for such a warning to become a staple of Canadian pre-trial jury instructions. Failure to do so leaves us at risk of adopting ostrich behaviour with our analog heads buried deep in the digital sand. Justice demands no less.