News: Jailed “internet research” contempt juror’s case goes to Strasbourg

4 12 2013

Attorney GeneralThe case of Theodora Dallas, the juror found to be in contempt of court after conducting online research, is now being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. She was found guilty of contempt and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment ([2012] EWHC 156 (Admin)). She subsequently applied to the Court of Human Rights which has now communicated the case to the UK government.

Ms Dallas was a juror in a trial at the Luton  Crown Court in July 2011. She carried out some research on the internet and told other members of the jury that a previous conviction of the defendant had involved an allegation of rape.  had found out about the defendant, Barry Medlock, who was on trial for causing grievous bodily harm. The jury was discharged after another juror drew the matter to the attention of the Court.

The Attorney-General applied for an order for committal for contempt.  The matter was heard in January 2012 by the Lord Chief Justice, Hallett LJ and Openshaw J.  The Court concluded

“We have no doubt that the defendant knew perfectly well, first, that the judge had directed her, and the other members of the jury, in unequivocal terms, that they should not seek information about the case from the internet; second, that the defendant appreciated that this was an order; and, third, that the defendant deliberately disobeyed the order. By doing so, before she made any disclosure to her fellow jurors, she did not merely risk prejudice to the due administration of justice, but she caused prejudice to it. This was because she had sought to arm and had armed herself with information of possible relevance to the trial which, although not adduced in evidence, might have played its part in her verdict. The moment when she disclosed any of that information to her fellow jurors she further prejudiced the administration of justice. In the result, the jury was rightly discharged from returning a verdict and a new trial was ordered. The unfortunate complainant had to give evidence of his ordeal on a second occasion. The time of the other members of the jury was wasted, and the public was put to additional unnecessary expense. The damage to the administration of justice is obvious” A-G v Dallas [2012] EWHC 156 (Admin), [38].

The case was widely reported at the time – for example in the Guardian,  the Daily Telegraph, and on the BBC website.

On 13 June 2012, Ms Dallas lodged an application with the Court of Human Rights making the following complaints:

  • Under Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (a) – that there was a failure to particularise the offence until judgment was given and a failure to inform her promptly of the nature and cause of the contempt application;
  • Under Article 7,  that she was found guilty of a criminal offence on account of an act which did not constitute a criminal offence at the time when it was committed, referring in particular to the new test for liability formulated by the Divisional Court; the lack of clarity of the trial judge’s direction on internet use and the absence of any penal warning by the trial judge; and the legal distinction between an order and a direction;
  • Under Article 5 § 1 that, in light of the alleged violations of Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention, her detention did not fall within the lawful grounds set out in Article 5 § 1 (a) or (b).

The application has now been “communicated” – in other words the UK Government has been asked for its comments.  The Court has asked the following question of the parties:

Did the act of which the applicant was convicted constitute a “criminal offence under national law” at the time when it was committed, for the purposes of Article 7 of the Convention, having regard to the test for contempt of court set out and applied by the Divisional Court in paragraph 38 of its judgment and the test outlined in previous domestic judgment judgments?

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