English news sources reported yesterday that a three-judge panel of the High Court found Theodora Dallas, until recently a university lecturer in psychology, guilty of contempt of court and sentenced her to six months imprisonment. She will serve the first three in jail and “be on license” for the second three.
Dallas was on a jury trying a case of grievous bodily harm. The trial judge had given jurors clear instructions not to look up matters connected to the trial. At home, she searched the term “grievous bodily harm” and then put it in conjunction with “Luton,” producing a result that showed the defendant had once been charged with (and acquitted of) rape. Dallas told other jurors during their deliberation what she had found in this way, with the consequence that, when this breach was reported to the trial judge, the trial was stopped.
A written judgment is not yet available online, so far as I can find. However, lengthy excerpts are available in a story in the Guardian. The story is also carried by the BBC, and The Register, among others.
This is not the first time an English court has dispensed a stiff penalty for disobeying instructions to a jury to stay off the internet. In June of this year a juror who used the internet to contact a defendant who had been acquitted earlier in the large trial was sentenced to eight months in prison.
As might be imagined, this case has once again raised concern and comment about the difficulty of conducting jury trials in this day and age of ubiquitous internet access. It will be difficult if not impossible, I suspect, to persuade obstreperous or “Bolshy” jurors that they mustn’t do what they can so easily do in fact — and with little fear of getting caught if they keep their mouths shut.