Jurors warned it’s not okay to Google accused
WITH the first sittings of the District Court in Toowoomba for 2016 this week, a local barrister is urging prospective jurors to heed the instructions of the trial judge.
At the last sittings of the District Court in Toowoomba last year, a judge had to abort a trial after a juror searched the internet for the history of a man on trial and brought that information into the jury room.
Barrister Robbie Davies said any juror who did that risked a jail sentence.
"My client had been charged with indecently touching a child under the age of 16.
"He denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty," Mr Davies explained.
"He had a significant criminal history and this showed he had been convicted of similar offending in the past.
"However, in accordance with our law the jury were not allowed to be told about this."
Mr Davies said by the complainant's evidence it became clear that the child, who was 15 at the time of the alleged offence, was "an untruthful witness and a verdict of not guilty seemed inevitable".
"However, one juror ignored a strong and clear direction at the start of the trial by the judge which warned the jury that it was an offence for any of them to make any kind of inquiry about the case or the accused.
"This, in effect, warned them not to attempt to look up things on the internet or otherwise conduct their own private inquiries.
"A disobedient juror discovered through his own investigations the accused's criminal history and informed the other jurors.
"Fortunately, this was reported to the judge and the whole trial had to be abandoned at significant cost to the community and with huge additional stress to both the accused (who was in custody) and to the child's family."
Mr Davies said subsequent to the trial the child confessed to his family that the accusation that he had made against the accused was false and the case had been dropped.
"The two lessons that this case teaches us are crystal clear.
"Jurors must not make their own inquiries, and if they do they will be referred by the trial judge to the Attorney General and they themselves may face imprisonment," he said.
"This happened not long ago in England where a juror was sentenced to three months actual custody.
"The other lesson is this - many people argue that juries should be told of an accused's criminal history but this case highlights precisely why that should not be allowed.
"Had the jury known of my client's background, it is most likely that he would have been wrongly convicted.
"The rule that juries are not to be told about a person's criminal history exists for this reason - just because a person did something similar five or 10 years ago, it does not mean that he did what is now alleged against him.
"This case is a perfect example of why the law is what it is - and it works."