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UK Juror Jailed for Chat with Defendant on Facebook

Joanne Fraill & Facebook Logo (right)The first juror in the UK has been jailed for contempt of court after using the internet, actions which led to a multimillion pound drug case having to go to retrial. The juror, 40-year-old Joanne Fraill, admitted to using Facebook to contact the defendant in the drug trial at High Court and was distraught when the judge sentenced her to 8 months in jail. The mother of 3 with 3 stepchildren, used the website to send and receive messages with 34-year-old Jamie Sewart in the 3rd or 4th trials.

During the case, which is estimated to have cost £6 million, Fraill communicated with Sewart, who was found innocent on a conspiracy charge to supply drugs. She wrote that she couldn’t get anyone to budge and then asked Sewart not to say anything, as a mistrial could be called and they would both be in trouble then. However, Sewart went to inform her solicitor the following day about the conversation, which triggered the contempt of court action.

Fraill also admitted to the court that she searched the internet to find out more about Gary Knox, Sewart’s boyfriend and a co-defendant, while the jury was in deliberation. She shouted “8 months,” when she was told her sentence and then cried uncontrollably with her head in her arms and on the table. After she collapsed, the judge called for a short adjournment so everyone could calm down.

In a written ruling, the judge said that Fraill’s conduct in using the internet repeatedly was completely opposite of her oath as a juror. Her communication with the defendant and searches online constituted blatant breaches of the orders made by the judge for the trial’s proper conduct. Their contact went way beyond the expression of a compassionate concern, he added, warning that a custodial sentence was inevitable for any juror committing similar contempts, and this sentence is intended to make sure that trial by jury keeps its integrity.

Fraill’s daughter had gone into labour just before the sentencing. Before being led away, she received hugs from tear-strewn relatives.

Along with Fraill’s 8-month sentence, Sewart was given a 2-month sentence suspended for 2 years for her involvement in the contempt. Later, she said that she really feels for Fraill, as she has kids. The woman has apologised and isn’t bad, Sewart added.

Solicitor General Edward Garnier QC, who prosecuted the case, said that jurors should carefully note and know that those who commit contempt will be prosecuted by law officers. The jury system is a vital part of society, he added, and confidence in the cornerstone of the criminal justice system will fall apart if jurors don’t take their responsibilities seriously.

Meanwhile, 35-year-old Knox is applying for the overturning of his conviction based on alleged jury misconduct. He was found guilty of paying a police officer to give him information about drug dealers and was jailed for 6 years.

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