Way back in 1168, the first trial by jury took place in Britain, in the court of Henry II. The defendant in question was one Benedict Graymond, who stood trial for killing a man with a garden tool (no, we don’t know what tool it was but we suspect something heavy or sharp). Graymond was found guilty by a jury of ordinary citizens, and no doubt met a very grizzly end.
This first trial by a jury made up not of the elite or the King’s court, but by the common people, paved the way for the jury system as we know it today.
It has been a long-held tenet of this system that jurors should know as little as possible about the background to a case. The idea is that once a case comes to trial, the jurors will hear the evidence from both sides with no preconceptions.
The British justice system prides itself on the premise that people are innocent until proven guilty, and the jury system plays a vital role in ensuring that this remains a fundamental part of our criminal justice system.
Our legal system has to work for all of us, regardless of wealth, status or political persuasion. The jury system upholds this and ensures that justice is not abused by those in authority. .
Clearly James Smith of Liverpool does not agree with this. Mr Smith had been on the jury of a drugs case at Liverpool crown Court in December 2014. Unfortunately, this trial had to be abandoned, resulting in £80,000 in wasted costs. The reason? Mr Smith, for reasons best known to himself, had decided to research one of the defendants on the internet, via his mobile phone. He looked up press releases, and other information about the defendant.
You may think this is bad enough, but Mr Smith went one step further: he then discussed the results of his findings with other members of the jury.
Although the trial was abandoned, Mr Smith did manage to complete another trial – his own. He was found guilty of Contempt of Court, sentenced to 9 months in prison (suspended for 12 months) and fined £900.
As private investigators, we spend a lot of our time in court, and have seen the workings of the jury system first hand. We know that it can be inconvenient to be called for jury service – some cases can last months or even years. But we believe firmly that it is a vital part of a fair justice system.
The case of James Smith was conducted by the Solicitor-general, Robert Buckland QC MP. His comments on the actions of Smith and another defendant who was tried at the same time for Contempt of Court (in this separate case the juror had written to five defendants after a trial had finished, and also given details of the jury’s deliberation) sums up for us why this is such an important issue:
‘Contempt of court of this nature involves serious wrongdoing and I instigated these proceedings as it was clearly in the wider public interest to do so…Any action which interferes with the administration of justice is a serious breach and I hope today’s judgment sends a lesson to other jurors about their responsibilities.’