June 14, 2011
First social media contempt case
Court considers juror-defendant Facebook chat
A forty year old mother of three became the first person to be prosecuted for contempt of court by making use of the internet during a trial.
In 2010 Joanna Fraill, sitting on a jury on a 10 week drugs trial, contacted a female defendant via Facebook after conducting her own research into the defendants. The juror exchanged messages and had a 35 minutes real time Facebook conversation with the female defendant over the internet, which included discussion of charges which the jury was yet to determine against a co-defendant, the female defendant’s boyfriend. The Court was presented with transcripts containing highly abbreviated language or textspeak, prosecuting counsel, the Solicitor General, mistaking ‘lol’ for the sign-off ‘lots of love’ before correcting himself and the court.
Ms Fraill admitted the charge of contempt brought by the Attorney General and her legal representative argued that there had been no calculated attempt to subvert the trial process.
The Court will proceed to sentence Joanna Fraill once an appeal by one of the defendants in the original trial is determined.
Lawyers have been divided as to the best way to deal with the ability of jurors to research cases on which they are sitting. It seems that as well as specific warnings about the use of arhival internet material to research a case or defendants, trial Judges may be directed to ask jurors to refrain from discussing cases on social media sites as well.
No such prohibition affected the contempt proceedings however; the Lord Chiefm Justice reminded the court that they were free to tweet the proceedings.