A juror in a major drugs trial has been jailed after contacting one of the defendants on Facebook
In another clear sign of how the legal profession is losing patience with social networking websites, the so-called ‘Facebook Juror’ Joanne Fraill has been sent to jail for eight months.
Earlier this week, 40-year-old Joanne Fraill of Blackley, Manchester, admitted at London’s high court that she had used Facebook to exchange messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant who had already been acquitted last year in an ongoing multimillion-pound drug trial in Manchester.
Sewart is a mother of two from Bolton and she had already been acquitted of conspiracy to supply drugs.
Yet despite jurors being cautioned not to engage in such actions while the trial was underway, Fraill made contact with Sewart on Facebook. It is reported that Fraill apparently felt “empathetic” towards Stewart and saw “considerable parallels” between their lives.
Fraill also admitted conducting an Internet search into Sewart’s boyfriend, Gary Knox, a co-defendant, while the jury was still deliberating. Her actions resulted in the collapse and retrial of the multimillion-pound drugs case.
When the Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge, announced that Fraill was to be sent to jail for eight months for contempt of court, Fraill is reported to have said “eight months!” and put her head on the table in front of her and cried.
“Her conduct in visiting the Internet repeatedly was directly contrary to her oath as a juror, and her contact with the acquitted defendant, as well as her repeated searches on the Internet, constituted flagrant breaches of the orders made by the judge for the proper conduct of the trial,” Lord Judge said in his ruling, according to the Guardian newspaper.
Sewart was also given a two-month sentence, suspended for two years, after being found guilty of contempt earlier this week.
The landmark case starkly illustrates the growing frustration within legal circles about the use of social networking websites.
It comes soon after the super-injunction debacle, in which a number of celebrities were named on the social networking site Twitter as having taken out super-injunctions. This included the footballer Ryan Giggs who used a super-injunction to keep secret the details of his extra-marital affair.
But these actions have not gone unnoticed by the authorities.
Attorney General Dominic Grieve has warned Twitter users that they could face prosecution for breaking privacy injunctions. And Twitter has said it is prepared to hand over the details of users that broke the injunctions, if legally required to do so.
Last month Lord Alan Sugar, entrepreneur and lead judge on BBC television show the Apprentice, was ordered to remove a provocative Twitter update about a Tory Lord, after a judge said it could unfairly influence jurors in an MP’s expenses trial.
Despite this, the legal profession has accepted to some degree the widespread use of Twitter and Facebook.
At the end of last year Lord Judge gave journalists the green light to use Twitter during court proceedings, as long as their tweets do not interfere with the judicial process.
And in March Facebook was used for the first time to deliver a court order, after a solicitor exhausted all conventional ways of trying to contact the defendant.
Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter have themselves been hit with an injunction order. That injunction effectively bans the social networks from revealing the identity of a mother who is seeking to withdraw life support from her brain-damaged daughter.