Juror in England jailed after admitting to internet search on case
Published 23/01/2012 | 14:00
A JUROR who carried out internet research at home while sitting at a criminal trial was jailed for six months for contempt of court today in England.
Academic Theodora Dallas, 34, had told other jurors what her research had revealed about a defendant on trial at Luton Crown Court in July 2011.
The judge aborted the trial after learning about her research.
She was sentenced today by three judges at the High Court in London, including Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice.
Dallas was present in court for the ruling.
She will serve three months and be on licence for the remainder of the term.
Lord Judge said Dr Dallas had "deliberately disobeyed" the trial judge's instructions not to search the internet and added: "The damage to the administration of justice is obvious."
Sentencing Dr Dallas, he said: "Misuse of the internet by a juror is always a most serious irregularity and an effective custodial sentence is virtually inevitable."
The judge said her counsel Charles Parry had made a plea to the court to be merciful and impose a suspended sentence.
Rejecting the plea, Lord Judge said there was "no sufficient basis" for suspension - "in this case an immediate custodial sentence is appropriate for the contempt which has been proved".
Lord Judge said Dallas was guilty of "contempt of the jury and the jury system", and the contempt had been proved "to the criminal standard".
He emphasised that jurors who attempted to "pick and choose" which principles governing trial by jury they would obey endangered the future of the jury system.
"In the long run, any system which allows itself to be treated with contempt faces extinction.
"That is a possibility we cannot countenance."
He said of Dallas, who came to England from Greece at the age of 19: "The defendant is a woman of positive good character and we acknowledge her achievements thus far in her relatively young life.
"We recognise she has now resigned from her appointment and has put her academic career in the long term into jeopardy."
But nothing had been said in mitigation that convinced the court she should be spared an immediate jail sentence.
At the time of the trial which she caused to be abandoned, Dallas was a psychology lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire, which has its main campus in Luton.
She told the judges she had "no intention" to "influence" the jury.
She had not "deliberately" ignored instructions but had "misunderstood" the trial judge's directions.
Mr Grieve, the Government's chief legal adviser, said the trial involved a defendant called Barry Medlock at Luton, accused of causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
He said jurors had been told by the trial judge to base decisions on the evidence and warned not to use the internet or discuss the case with others.
A juror had told an usher that Dallas had carried out internet research while jurors were deliberating their verdict.
Dallas had revealed to jurors that Medlock had previously been accused, and acquitted, of rape - information not given during the trial.
Mr Grieve said the judge had investigated and then aborted the trial.
Medlock had been re-tried in October, convicted and jailed, he said.
Dallas said she had been checking the meaning of grievous bodily harm on the internet.
She had added the word "Luton" to a search and that search had then produced a newspaper report which mentioned Medlock and the previous rape allegation.
Dallas said in a written witness statement given to judges that "sometimes my grasp of English is not that good".
"I did not understand that I could make no search on the internet," she said.
"I had no intention at all to prejudice the jury in any way. I had no intention to disobey what the judge said. I really apologise. I never thought it would cause such disruption."
Dallas, who told judges that one of her uncles was a sculptor who had designed the medals for the 2004 Athens Olympics, said she had resigned from her university post after facing disciplinary proceedings.
She had suffered depression and ill-health as a result of her ordeal.