A juror who is believed to have contacted a defendant via Facebook is in the High Court in London today facing contempt of court charges. Both juror and defendant could face up to two years in jail if the charges are proven.
It is alleged that Joanne Fraill contacted Jamie Sewart, a defendant over drugs charges in a 10-week trial in Manchester. The trial collapsed when the judge found out about Ms Fraill's alleged conduct, and chose to discharge the jury. A different defendant in the original trial is now appealing his conviction and jail sentence, claiming jury misconduct.
The case is a UK legal first, and its importance can be seen by the individuals involved. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC is prosecuting before the Lord Chief Justice, the rather wonderfully named Lord Judge.
Ms Fraill is accused of contacting Ms Sewart via Facebook after the latter had been acquitted, but before the trial had concluded, while other defendants were awaiting verdicts and sentencing. She is also accused of conducting interent research on those in the dock.
Angus McCullough QC, for the attorney general, told the High Court: "Ms Fraill contacted Ms Sewart via the internet and conducted an online conversation with her. The discussion took place at a time when the jury still had outstanding verdicts to return on the case.
"That contact and discussion were in direct breach of the judge's repeated directions to the jury that they should not discuss the case with anyone outside their number, and constituted a contempt of court. Ms Fraill also conducted internet searches on the defendants she was trying."