Should Jurors Who Search the Internet Should Be Punished?
EMBARGOED UNTIL 10:00 AM 19 MAY 2014
MEDIA RELEASE 19 May 2014 Hon Sir Grant Hammond KNZM
Law Commission Asks Whether Jurors Who Search the Internet Should Be Punished
The Law Commission is seeking public feedback as part of its review of contempt of court on whether there should be a new offence to deal with jurors who search the Internet during a trial or communicate jury room deliberations through social media. This is one of the topics covered in its Issues Paper, Contempt in Modern New Zealand, which was released today.
The sentencing last year of an Auckland man called for jury service for reportedly failing to make himself available for a jury trial has highlighted for the public the issue of contempt of court by those called to serve as jurors. The Commission has examined in its Issues Paper the potential for increasing problems of contempt by jurors.
Sir Grant Hammond, President of the Commission, said the purpose of the law of contempt is to protect the integrity of the justice system and a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
“The right to trial by jury for serious offences is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system in New Zealand and something we all have an interest in protecting. It requires citizens to be available to serve on juries and to also then carry out their duties in accordance with the law.”
Judge Peter Boshier, Lead Commissioner for the review, believes that New Zealand may well begin to see the types of problems that the courts in England and Wales have had to grapple with due to jurors searching the Internet and falling foul of the law of contempt.
Judge Boshier says that the Internet and the use of social media have totally changed the way ordinary people access and disseminate information. Changes are now needed to modernise the law of contempt to better address the risks that jurors accessing material through the Internet or 2
communicating through social media may pose to a defendant’s right to be fairly tried only on the evidence admitted in Court.
“We have a fairly stark choice to make. We can either come down hard in the way the English courts have on those jurors who break the rules and look for information relating to their cases on the Internet, or we can take a more proactive approach and try to steer jurors away from such conduct in a more conciliatory way.”
Judge Boshier says the Law Commission favours a proactive approach and the Issues Paper canvasses a number of possible options.
“We need to be careful about creating new offences. Punishing a citizen when he or she is undertaking a civic duty could be considered harsh, particularly where the person has simply been overzealous and looked for material on the web to try and make the right decision.”
Although the Commission suggests a statutory offence may be needed, it also proposes that the risk that jurors will see or look for material on the Internet should be more proactively managed to minimise the possibility of a juror committing such an offence.
“We are seeking input from the public on what type of approach we should take in this area.”
The Commission now welcomes any comments or submissions on the Issues Paper. The closing date for submissions is Friday 22 August 2014. The Commission intends to publish its report on the reference in the second half of 2015.
The full Issues Paper, Contempt in Modern New Zealand (IP36, 2014) is available from our website at http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/project/review-contempt-court/issues-paper.