Sunday, 15 September 2013

How could you stop people

from searching the internet? Why would you want to do it?
I am not talking about vile and illegal content or about racist or other content but the sort of content most of us would consider normal even if we could not be bothered with it ourselves. Why should it be a problem?
I had not considered it until yesterday. There is an article in the weekend paper about what has to be a new problem for the justice system. A juror did a little searching on the internet about the defendant in a criminal case. His curiosity got the better of him and he went searching on line to see what, if anything, he could find.
He did find something and then he shared it. The other jurors, rightly, advised the judge. He is now facing potential prosecution as he had been told to stay away from the internet for the duration of the trial and the verdict.
When a defendant faces a court the jury is not supposed to know if they have any prior convictions. The media is not supposed to publish any details of such things. The jury is not supposed to have any relationship with the defendant. Justice, it is said, depends on these things. A defendant has a right to the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. You cannot accuse people of having done wrong simply because they did wrong in the past. You have to be able to show they did the wrong thing this time.
The judge on the other hand will have access to that information. If the defendant is found guilty the judge may take that information into account when sentencing occurs.
But now there is a new problem. In the past it was difficult for jurors to have any prior knowledge of the defendant. Now, if the matter has been reported anywhere or there is any other activity relating to the defendant, a search of the internet might produce all sorts of information. Some of it might be accurate. Some of it might be inaccurate. Accurate or not jurors are not supposed to have access to it.
How many jurors have looked up a defendant's name on line? It would be natural curiosity to do that. If they don't do it themselves then they can get others to do it for them, sometimes by asking people who can access sites that are not readily accessible to the general public unless fees are paid.
It's a problem with the internet. You could of course haul potential jurors in, choose them and then isolate them for the duration of the trial and their considerations. The expense and inconvenience of doing that would be prohibitive. You could remove their internet capable phones and their computers but that would mean denying their families and friends access too - as well as ensuring they did not head off to a library or an internet café. That would be almost impossible to achieve and impinges on the rights of others.
You can go on doing as is being done and relying on jurors not to do an internet search or, should they do one, being able to consider the evidence without making assumptions.
I have no idea what the answer to the problem is but it does raise another issue. The media needs to be a good deal more careful about what they report and the way they report it. If the child of a high profile figure gets reprimanded for some minor infraction, as many others do, then splashing it on the front page of the paper will have to stop. That act may have nothing at all to do with a case before the court. It could influence a future jury. Jurors are going to do internet searches.

5 comments:

Sue Bursztynski said...

We still can't watch the first season of Underbelly in Melbourne because of this. Silly, I know! The thing is, there have been cases in the past where a defendant's lawyer has been able to argue, successfully, that their client has been tried by media and can't get a fair trial. And so they get off even if they're guilty. What always annoyed me is that the jury can't get information about previous crimes committed by a rapist, but the defence lawyer is allowed to question the sexual past of the victim. No wonder so few victims report!

You may have noticed that there are courtroom artists because photography is not allowed.

catdownunder said...

And I wonder how many people have seen it because friends and relatives made copies for them? I couldn't be bothered with watching it myself but I imagine just the fact that you are not allowed to would make some people want to watch it even more.

Judy Edmonds said...

I suppose in the past jurors were told not to discuss the case with anyone, and that had to be held on trust. I suppose the searching the Internet has to be held on trust too. Re Underbelly - when that bann was first placed on it I immediately went out and bought the book it was based on, purely to show the law is an ass - the book was readily available and contained little (I believe) that the DVD did not. the point I wanted to make that the judge passed judgement purely on the DVD but either did not remember or did not think it important that people could already read the exact same information freely if they chose.

Sue Bursztynski said...

In fact, the book was just a collection of articles fIrst published in the Age newspaper, by John Silvester and Andrew Rule - it was one of the resources I used for researching my children's book on crime and very handy it was too(and one of those criminals had been a student at one of our campuses, there were teachers who remembered him). More people would have wanted to see the TV series. But yes, you could get it easily enough on DVD from interstate. I suppose the ruling was made to stop the lawyers arguing that nothing had been done in Victoria to prevent the trial by media.

Anonymous said...

Like Cat I cannot understand why anyone would want to read or view something like that unless they had to...Cat gets enough of the real stuff in her everyday life and, believe me, politics can be every bit as bad. Chris