Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 12:50 UK

Jury foreman guilty of contempt

Keran Henderson
Keran Henderson was convicted of manslaughter on a 10-2 majority

A jury foreman who broke the law banning the disclosure of jury room deliberations has been found guilty of contempt of court.

Michael Seckerson told The Times newspaper how a majority verdict was reached in the case of a childminder who was accused of manslaughter.

But two High Court judges ruled that the "robust and highly valued" jury system depended on jurors' privacy.

Seckerson and The Times' publishers will now face a fine or prison term.

Seckerson was a juror in the 2007 case of Keran Henderson, a childminder from Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire.

She was found guilty of the manslaughter of 11-month-old Maeve Sheppard by a 10-2 majority - with Seckerson being one of the two dissenters.

'No going back'

The Times articles, written by legal editor Frances Gibb, said that two jurors had raised concerns about the complex testimony of expert medical witnesses which was crucial during the trial.

It reported: "The consensus was taken three minutes after the foreman was voted in. It was 10-2 against, all based on the evidence. After that, there was no going back."

It was also said that the medical evidence was "overwhelming", that the majority voted guilty "because it could do no other".

"Ultimately the case was decided by laymen and laywomen using that despicable enemy of correct and logical thinking, that wonderfully persuasive device, common sense," the paper wrote.

Maeve Sheppard
Maeve Sheppard's neck was violently snapped back and forth

The case against Seckerson and the newspaper was brought by Attorney General Baroness Scotland under Section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act, which bans disclosure of "votes cast, statements made, opinions expressed or arguments advanced" by members of a jury in their deliberations.

The defendants attempted to use Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights - which guarantees freedom of expression - to argue that contempt proceedings were unjustified.

They also argued that the press had a right to keep the public informed about court proceedings.

However, on Wednesday Lord Justice Pill and Mr Justice Sweeney agreed that contempt laws had been broken.

Lord Justice Pill said the jury system depended on the open and frank deliberations in secret, without any individual fearing that their potentially unpopular views might become public.

The judge said he accepted that Ms Gibb had sought legal advice before publication and that it was given in good faith. He also accepted that Seckerson had a genuine concern about the use of expert testimony.

But the court ruled that he should not have disclosed the approach taken to the evidence by other jurors.

The judges were asked to make "orders of committal" - meaning a jail sentence or a fine - against Seckerson and the publishers. The case has been adjourned until 22 May.

Henderson was jailed for three years, but will appeal against her conviction later this month.

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