I was surprised to read remarks by a British judge, as reported by the BBC.
In a lecture published on Friday the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, raised major concerns about the use of the internet by jurors.
He said: "If the jury system is to survive as the system for a fair trial... the misuse of the internet by jurors must stop."
Lord Judge said some jurors had used the internet to research a rape case.
Earlier this year a judge in Manchester had to dismiss a jury and restart a trial, The Sun reported, after a juror went onto her Facebook page, gave details of a trial and asked friends: "Did he do it?"
Lord Judge, who is the most senior judge in England and Wales, said it was too easy for campaigners to bombard Twitter with messages in a bid to put pressure on jurors who might be looking at it.
He said: "We cannot stop people tweeting, but if jurors look at such material, the risks to the fairness of the trial will be very serious, and ultimately the openness of the trial process on which we all rely, would be damaged."
Lord Judge added: "We cannot accept that the use of the internet, or rather its misuse, should be acknowledged and treated as an ineradicable fact of life, or that a Nelsonian blind eye should be turned to it or the possibility that it is happening.
"If it is not addressed, the misuse of the internet represents a threat to the jury system which depends, and rightly depends, on evidence provided in court which the defendant can hear and if necessary challenge."
He said judges need to warn jurors in the strongest terms not to use the internet to research cases or to give details of cases they are deliberating on.
He wants the notice in jury rooms to be amended to include a warning that such research could amount to a contempt of court. He raised the prospect of sentencing jurors who use the internet for research.
Lord Judge even suggested sending text messages from court buildings should be banned.
There's more at the link.
Thinking about it, the good judge may have a point. I can see that indisciplined jurors might look for facts that were not presented in evidence in order to make up their minds; and, according to the letter of the law, that's not right. However, to my mind, the current practice whereby juries are often not informed about a defendant's criminal record is equally wrong. After all, if the accused has a string of convictions as long as your arm, you may never know that. Instead, he's presenting himself (or his lawyer is presenting him) as a poor, misunderstood, naive, hapless victim of circumstances who's really as pure as the driven slush. Isn't that misrepresentation as great a threat to justice as a juror doing his or her own research?
Technology offers other advantages besides private research. If jurors are to keep in touch with their families, or continue with certain occupations, it's often essential. There's also the threat to jurors' rights if they're deprived of it. Take me, for example. If I'm called up for jury duty, am I to be forbidden the right to blog for the duration of the trial? Isn't that an unwarrantable intrusion on my life? Sure, I expect to be forbidden to write about the trial on my blog (at least while it's in progress), but there are plenty of other things I can write about. Why should I be restricted from talking about them?
What say you, readers? Does the judge have a point? Or is this 'a bridge too far' for a legal Big Brother?