Channel 4’s latest television programme, The Jury: Murder Trial, took a fascinating new look at the question of whether we can trust juries. The programme involved the re-enactment of a murder trial in front of two separate juries in order to see whether they reach the same verdict.

It offered captivating viewing for jury researchers, such as Nicola Monaghan, Principal Lecturer in Law at the University of Worcester, not least because jury deliberations are such a tightly kept secret,

In this post, Nicola considers the issue of jury misconduct, a problem that the criminal justice system is struggling to deal with and which threatens the future of the jury trial.

Jury misconduct

Jury deliberations are one of the modern mysteries of our society. Governed by strict rules designed to protect jurors from reprisals after a trial and to encourage jurors to engage in candid discussions during deliberations, it’s a matter taken very seriously by the courts. In fact, it is a criminal offence for a juror to disclose any jury deliberations, even after the trial has taken place (s.20D, Juries Act 1974).

However, over the years, the courts have had to deal with numerous incidents where jurors have fallen foul of the law. Some jurors have even served prison sentences after being convicted of jury misconduct offences.

One of the most famous cases involving jurors being prosecuted was ‘the Ouija board case’ (R v Young [1995] QB 324) in which jurors, who had been sequestered to a hotel overnight, decided to hold a séance in order to try to find out whether the defendant was guilty or not. In this case, the Court of Appeal decided that they were able to investigate what had occurred with the Ouija board because the events had taken place at the hotel rather than during jury deliberations, so there was no breach of the secrecy rules. A retrial was ordered in this case.

However, some misconduct takes place or is shared in the jury deliberating room itself and does form part of the deliberations. There have been cases where jurors have conducted their own investigations ‘CSI-style’, including visiting the crime scene, taking measurements and photographs (R v Patterson (2008) unreported), and taking props into the jury room to carry out their own experiments (R v Boseley (2008) unreported) – this last case actually took place at Worcester Crown Court. There have also been cases involving allegations of racism in the jury room (R v Qureshi [2001] EWCA Crim 1807) and cases involving both racism and bullying (R v Connor; R v Mirza [2004] UKHL 2).

So strict are the secrecy rules, that one juror who disclosed jury deliberations in order to draw attention to what he considered to be a miscarriage of justice (along the lines of a whistle-blower) was also found to be in contempt of court as he had revealed jury deliberations after the trial (Attorney General v Scotcher [2003] EWHC 1380 (Admin)). The fact that his intention had been to urge an appeal and remedy a miscarriage of justice was not deemed to be a sufficient defence. Where jurors are concerned about the conduct of their fellow jurors, they must raise this with the judge before the verdict is delivered.

These cases pose significant problems for the courts as the judiciary is keen to avoid criticism of the jury and to protect the integrity of the jury system. However, the development of the internet and mobile technology has ultimately led to more serious consequences for jurors who misbehave.

Imprisoning jurors

In 2011, a juror was sent to prison for 8 months for contempt of court after they contacted a defendant on Facebook and disclosed details of the jury’s deliberations to one of the defendants (who had been acquitted separately) (Attorney General v Fraill [2011] EWHC 1629 (Admin)). As a result of the juror’s behaviour, the multimillion-pound drugs trial collapsed and they admitted contempt of court under s.8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Lord Chief Justice Judge stated that the sentence of imprisonment was ‘intended to ensure the continuing integrity of trial by jury’.

In 2012, another juror was imprisoned for 6 months for contempt of court after they conducted their own research on the internet (Attorney General v Dallas [2012] EWHC 156 (Admin)). Despite the trial judge’s directions not to conduct research, the juror conducted searches for the defendant and shared the information they found with other jurors. The juror was reported to the judge by the court usher and another juror. They were found to be in contempt of court and Lord Chief Justice Judge imposed a sentence of imprisonment in order to protect the integrity of the jury, stating that “any system which allows itself to be treated with contempt faces extinction. That is a possibility we cannot countenance”.

As a result of these key cases and further cases of juror misconduct, the Law Commission carried out a consultation into jury misconduct, which led to the development of specific jury misconduct offences. The Law Commission cited jury misconduct offences which were introduced in Australia and stated that there had been no prosecutions of these new offences in New South Wales or Queensland at the time of publication of the report. The introduction of new jury misconduct offences in England and Wales was clearly intended to deter jurors from committing these offences.

What offences can a juror be convicted of?

There are now four specific jury misconduct offences under the Juries Act 1974 (as amended by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015). It is an offence for a juror to:

Each of these offences carries a possible sentence of imprisonment for up to two years.

If Parliament thought that the introduction of these offences might act as a deterrent, a quick internet search for news stories tells us that jury misconduct continues to be a problem for the courts. In just the past couple of years, a juror (who was a practising solicitor) was sent to prison after undertaking her own research on a case on which she was serving as a juror (‘Solicitor jailed for jury internet search suspended for eight years’, Law Society Gazette, 19th January 2024). Another juror (who had worked for the police) was imprisoned for six months after researching the defendant online (‘Juror jailed for causing rape trial to collapse by researching defendant online’, The Guardian, 25th May 2023).

Channel 4’s new programme may have given us further insight into the secret realm of the jury deliberating room and highlighted some of the potential flaws with the jury system. However, Parliament’s attempt to resolve jury misconduct with new criminal offences and sentences of imprisonment might not be the effective deterrent that the Law Commission had hoped for. We certainly have some further work to do in this field.

Nicola Monaghan has published textbooks on Criminal Law (Oxford University Press) and the Law of Evidence (Cambridge University Press) as well as other books. Her research interests include jury misconduct and the criminal trial, and she has published a wide range of journal articles. She is an unregistered barrister and a member of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.