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Tweeting as a juror

Oh, it’s all go on the jury front at the moment! First, I’m called up to be a juror, then the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales decides to discuss the topic of tweeting and doing online research while acting as a juror.

In terms of my own experience in a Scottish court, I have to say, there weren’t any warnings about tweeting or going online via our phones by anyone official while I was in the public area of the court, or the jury room. I think there may have been a comment by the Clerk to turn phones to silent while we waited to be selected, but that may be a figment of my imagination, as I was reminding myself to make sure my phone was on silent while sitting there.

Once selected and led to the jury room we were told by the court officer that we had to turn our phones off, and we were to be allowed one phone call to a relevant person who needed to know we’d been selected and therefore unavailable until 4pm (childminders etc) on the landline in the room, but other than that, we were meant to be incommunicado. I did think it was a slightly archaic instruction at the time, especially since one individual who needed to inform her childcarer just used her mobile, as it was easier than finding the number and dialling it on the landline phone! We were instructed about not discussing the case with family or friends when we went home, but nothing was said about not looking up the defendants online.

Needless to say, this “turn your phones off” instruction was pretty much completely ignored – texting and emailing was going on frequently as we sat in the jury room, and people continued to use their phones to do their work (one person was using his Blackberry to deal with his emails, while we sat twiddling our thumbs waiting), while others were texting regular updates to people about when they might possibly be getting out of the court. I was also naughty and did tweet once….to say I was bored! And I was also texting to ask someone to look up the times of the next trains for me, as I was going to see them whenever we were allowed out.

Admittedly, we as the jury hadn’t heard anything beyond what had been read out in public in the court, so perhaps things would have been different if we’d actually been involved in any deliberations.

So, to complain about people tweeting in court, when they’ve not had any instructions NOT to, may be a bit daft. Yes, technically, in the jury room our phones should have been turned off. But when you’re being dragged out of your normal life to sit on a jury, and everything’s put on hold, you need some sort of way to still stay involved with reality. And with modern technology allowing so much of your life to be dealt with via your phone (emails, texts, social networks, events calendar), cutting you off from that without an understandable reason means people WILL just ignore your rules, as my jury members and I did.

If you want people not to do specific things, tell them that: don’t just assume they’ll know the rules and reasons that you do, or that they will be compliant enough not to show some interested thought and actively try and find out themselves, in some small way, what “really” happened in a case...it's definitely a temptation to "play detective"!

You could also clearly explain the penalties for disobedience – we knew we could get in trouble for discussing the case with other people, and that was something that I don’t think any of us had any intention of doing, but there was no hint of a penalty for internet/online activity.


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