I have been having a rather jam-packed week, what with Caligula and the trolls. But I dont want to forget a case that made the news a couple of days ago -- the one about the two month prison sentence given to a juror who researched the case he was hearing at home in the evening on the internet.
Now I dont want to comment on the rights and wrong of this case (brief newspaper reports never give you enough information to decide what you think about the fairness, or otherwise, of the sentence). But as soon as I heard about it, it reminded me of a conversation I had had on a train a few months ago.
The man opposite me happened to be a judge, and we fell to talking about the nature and the problems of jury trial. At one point in the conversation, I said that I reckoned -- that if I were a juror (and I never have been) -- I really could see myself doing a bit of googling in the evening. I would know that I shouldn't, and I wouldn't tell my fellow jurors, and I would feel rather guilty and shifty about it (and get paranoid that the jusge would haul my laptop in for examination), and all the rest. But I just knew in my bones that after a curious day in court, with nothing to think about but the oddities of the case (and/or all the work of my own that wasnt getting done), and after have a bottle of Pinot Grigio over supper, I probably wouldn't be able to resist the temptation of a quick internet trawl.
He came down on me like a ton of bricks -- as, I know, was absolutely right and proper. That would be contempt, it would overturn some of the fundamental principles of British justice, it could land me in prison, etc etc.
And indeed that is exactly what happened to my namesake (the man sent down for two months was also called Beard -- no relation so far as I am aware).
But I still cant help wondering if we have to think a bit more radically about jury behaviour in "the internet age".