Guilty of using Google: Reconciling the right to a fair trial with the right to freedom of expression and addressing juror misconduct in the age of social media
It is widely accepted that the right to a fair trial is one of the most important guarantees contained within our legal system. That right is undermined when a jury member conducts his or her own research into a case. This type of juror misconduct constitutes contempt of court. In the light of the fact that the law of contempt is currently the subject of review in a number of jurisdictions, this paper considers how the law of contempt could be adapted to better manage the risk of jurors undertaking independent research. After a discussion of the current law and some problems with it, particularly those created by modern communications technology, this paper considers a number of possible reform options. It makes two broad recommendations. First, that the law should focus relatively more on preventing jurors undertaking their own research than on limiting publication. Second, that independent research by jurors should be the subject of statutory criminalisation, and a range of measures should be adopted to increase jurors’ understanding of the importance of not going outside the evidence before them and to minimize any incentives for jurors to conduct their own research.