Page last updated at 08:52 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 09:52 UK

Lawyers urge Google jury warning

Paul McBride and Donald Findlay want jurors to be warned over using the internet
Paul McBride and Donald Findlay want jurors to be warned over internet use

Two of Scotland's leading criminal lawyers have said more must be done to stop jurors using the internet to research cases they are involved in.

Donald Findlay QC and Paul McBride QC said Scottish courts had to recognise that this was a growing problem.

Mr McBride told BBC Scotland jurors now had immediate access to the internet via their mobile phones.

He said they must be warned by judges and sheriffs not to "Google" anything related to their case.

The QC said: "In this new technological age where every teenager has a phone which has access to the internet and can Google anybody, the temptation must be very high, especially in cases of high profile, to look up the history of someone who is on trial.

"Currently there is no system in place to prevent that happening."

Legal establishment

He added: "I would like the legal establishment to give direct warnings to jurors that they must not, during the currency of a case, look at the internet, either in relation to alleged circumstances of the crime, any witness or, in particular, the accused - and they must concentrate solely on the evidence."

Writing in the Scottish Legal News, Mr Findlay said the failure to address the problem showed an "ostrich approach" from the legal establishment.

Mr Findlay said: "The law works on a fiction that jurors always do what they are told and must only decide the case on the merits of the evidence presented, but I am not convinced of that.

"In some of the more high-profile cases, the temptation to type in the name of the defendant or the incident itself into a search engine must be a temptation almost too great.

"You're not getting fact but media coverage which may or may not be fact and that is a very dangerous situation."

Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg said warnings over using the internet were standard practice in England and Wales.

In the old days jurors probably could not remember what they had read in the newspapers six or nine months before the trial, even in a high profile case
Joshua Rozenberg
Legal commentator

He said: "There was some debate though because the problem with telling a jury 'don't look this up on the internet' is it will give some people the idea of doing exactly that."

"It is possible it could be counter-productive and that is no doubt why there is still debate in Scotland, but the view in England seems to be it is better to give the jury a clear order not to do so and then just trust the jury."

He said judges already gave warnings to jurors not to discuss the case among family and friends and they were trusted to comply.

Mr Rozenberg said the internet ban was difficult to enforce unless you locked a jury up in a room for the length of a trial.

He said: "In the old days jurors probably could not remember what they had read in the newspapers six or nine months before the trial, even in a high profile case.

"Nowadays they will look things up which they would not have even seen at the time of the trial, let alone remembered."



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