If you meet a new friend and decide to get chatting on Facebook, it’s usually not a problem. If you’re a juror and your new buddy is the defendant, it’s a problem.
Two British women have become the first in the country to be prosecuted and convicted of contempt of court for online actions.
Juror Joanne Fraill and defendant Jamie Sewart made contact through the site during jury deliberations in a major drug trial that was being held for a third time after previous collapses. The total cost of the case had by this point reached £6 million (approximately US$10 million.)
At the point the two made Facebook contact for the first time, the jury had already acquitted Sewart, but had not yet reached verdicts on her co-defendants. Fraill made the initial contact, expressing empathy with Sewart for having spent time in prison on remand before the trial. The two then discussed the case in Facebook messages, including the ongoing jury deliberations. (Extracts appear in the image above.) It appears the two did not formally add one another as Facebook friends but planned to do so after the case concluded.
When Sewart’s lawyer discovered the conversations had taken place he reported it to the judge who immediately halted the trial and dismissed the jury. One defendant who had already been convicted in the case is now appealing for the verdict to be overturned.
The British attorney general then brought a prosecution for contempt of court against the pair. Fraill admitted the charge, while Sewart pleaded not guilty but was this week convicted.
The two women both face maximum penalties of two years’ in prison. Fraill will be sentenced later this week but has been told any prison sentence will be suspended. Sewart will be sentenced only once the convicted man’s appeal has been heard.
In a piece of information that has no bearing on the case but is still plain wonderful, the contempt case was heard by the head of the British judiciary. Born Igor Judge, his role means he is also a peer of the realm. It is therefore correct to say that in this case the judge was the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.