Editorial: Unplugging jurors


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Are sneaky jurors snooping in cyberspace for information on cases thus breaching their legal obligations? Well, they are in the U.S. which means you can bet your tweet bippy it''s going on here as well.

And Toronto criminal lawyer Adam Boni has rightly sounded the alarm about the potential problem, telling Law Times reporter Robert Todd in our page one story that regional senior justices must issue a practice direction now to keep jurors' hands in their pockets.

"What's at stake here is the integrity of the jury trial system, and the foundational notion that an accused has a right to a trial based on the evidence presented in a courtroom before 12 independent, impartial arbiters of the facts," Boni says.

Here's a newsflash: he's actually not over-stating the urgency of the situation and it's prescient for him to raise "alarm bells" here in Canada.
"I think it's a classic example of how technological advances can outpace developments in the administration of justice," says Boni.

In the U.S. there are reports of what's been dubbed "Google mistrials" - cases that have gone off the rails because jurors collected and disseminated information about cases on BlackBerrys and iPhones.

As Todd reports, there's a case where a juror was accused of sending Twitter updates; another allegedly posted updates on Facebook and Twitter; and nine jurors went against a judge's order and conducted their own Internet probe.

Why on earth would anyone assume it isn't happening here? Ah, except here it's a lot more difficult to find out given that it's illegal for our jurors to talk about deliberations.

Back in the dark ages when we covered Toronto's courts, the rule was then as it is today, you can only report what the jury heard in the courtroom on a daily basis. The jurors are also instructed not to read or watch media reports of a trial, but in case they do take a peek, the added layer of protection is in place.

Woe betide the newbie court reporter who breaks that rule; they and their editors are hauled before the judge to 'splain themselves post-haste. Internet ban breakers? M'eh. We'd hate to think it's because there are two rules . . .

This is why the ubiquitous, "What the jury didn't hear" stories dominate so-called mainstream news pages and broadcasts once juries are sequestered.  Until now, jurors simply didn't during trials have access to the kind of information and communication the web provides.

As The Globe and Mail's Christie Blatchford writes in her column recently, "The normal rules mean squat on the web. Publication bans imposed by law don't count, apparently not even to the authorities who would properly prosecute the regular press for such breaches."

Boni's suggestion for adoption of a uniform code of practice "without delay," is sound. "What we don't want is a patchwork of different approaches to the issue," he says.
So let's nip this tweeting, grunting, mewing, lowing, clucking, or whatever it's called this week, and create new rules.

And post them on the Internet to ensure everyone sees it.
-  Gretchen Drummie

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