Smartphone abuse by jurors is unavoidable, says appeal court judge

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Nov 28, 2017
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Advocates should remind jurors not to use their phones to research the trial, according to a court of appeal judge

Dominic Lipinski/PA

Smartphones and social media create risks in criminal trials that cannot be entirely eliminated, a Court of Appeal judge told barristers last week.

Lord Justice Singh said that the “quick and easy” use of smartphones made it impossible to guarantee that there would never be problems.

He told a conference of the Criminal Bar Association: “These days a smartphone can do so many things that were undreamt of even a few years ago, and can do so almost instantaneously.” 

He added that when he was trying a murder case at Lewes in 2013, there was a submission of no case to answer on behalf of one of the two defendants at half time. “I rejected that submission. Of course all of that happened, as it must, in the absence of the jury. 

“Very shortly afterwards my ruling was circulated on social media by someone who had been in the public gallery. Thankfully, it was possible to have this material removed quite quickly and no one suggested that any member of the jury had seen it.”

The judge told the barristers that they should, if necessary, remind the trial judge to tell the jury in introductory remarks not to talk about a case, even to other jury members, except when they were all together. 

He recalled a Court of Appeal case this year in which the trial judge had failed to warn the jury. “In the end this did not affect the outcome of the appeal although some members of the jury had spoken about the case when they went out for a drink, but it is worth remembering that counsel have a responsibility in this regard, as does the judge.”

Lord Justice Singh emphasised the warning that judges gave to jurors at the start of trials not to research the case on the internet, including the possibility of a contempt of court and penal sanctions being imposed.

“But one cannot guarantee that there will never be problems when the use of smartphones is so quick and easy.”

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