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United Kingdom: Court rejects internet research juror’s human rights complaint

Human rights judges have rejected a complaint brought by an United Kingdom juror, convicted of contempt of court, after using the internet to research a defendant’s criminal past.

In today’s chamber judgment in the case of Dallas v. the United Kingdom (application no. 38395/12) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

no violation of Article 7 (no punishment without law) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case was brought by Theodora Dallas, a Greek national who was born in 1977 and lives in Luton (England, UK).

On 4 July 2011, Dallas attended jury service in the Crown Court. Before the case was opened the judge gave a number of directions to the jury underlining the importance of deciding the case only on the basis of what they saw and heard in the courtroom. The judge told the jury that they must not speak to anyone about the case and must not go on the Internet.

The trial commenced and, in the course of the trial, evidence of the defendant’s previous conviction for assault was adduced.

On 6 July 2011, one of the jurors informed the court usher that Dallas had been on the Internet and had found out about additional information, not adduced at trial, about the defendant’s previous conviction, which she had shared with the jury.

The trial judge was informed. On 8 July 2011, the judge informed Ms Dallas of the allegation and told her that the matter would be referred to the Attorney General and that there would be a police investigation. The trial was aborted.

Dallas complained to the European court that the common law offence of contempt of court had not been sufficiently clear.

However, the court found in particular that the test for contempt of court applied in her case had been both accessible and foreseeable. The law-making function of the courts had remained within reasonable limits and the judgment in her case could be considered, at most, a step in the gradual clarification of the rules of criminal liability for contempt of court through judicial interpretation.

Any development of the law had been consistent with the essence of the offence and could be reasonably foreseen.

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