Juries and the Internet

The judge presiding over the UK trial of a police officer charged with manslaughter of a man at the London G20 protests in 2009, made a request that certain newspapers purge their online archived reports of the accused’s involvement in a 2001 road rage incident. The judge had ruled the jury should not hear evidence of this incident at the trial. The purpose of his request to the newspapers – with which they complied voluntarily – was to remove the risk that the jurors might read them.

The stories had been run by the papers legitimately, prior to any charges being laid.

During submissions the judge asked if Google could be requested to censor searches to exclude articles and whether Wikipedia could be asked to amend its entries.

If this approach is followed, how will it affect the way media report high profile jury cases? Will newspapers be required to comb through their archives whenever a high profile case is going to trial? And then there is Twitter and Facebook.

The question of how far the court should try to go to ensure jurors will focus only on the evidence rather than matters outside the courtroom takes on new dimensions in the age of the internet.

Is insulation of the jury even a feasible goal when anyone can Google an accused from their smart phone? Does a judge have the power to “clean up” the internet?

Or must jurors just be trusted to follow the court’s directions?

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