News & Current Affairs

By Aulich


Has social media eradicated the possibility of a fair trial?

The increasing prevalence of social media continues to threaten fair trials as jurors turn to the internet to learn more.

Recent cases across Australia have shown jurors disobeying their directions and actively using social media during their jury duties. Last year in Western Australia a juror was dismissed after posting on Facebook about a case and in Queensland a juror nearly caused a mistrial after posting regularly on Instagram during her deliberations. In 2014 in Queensland a murder case was aborted after a juror admitted to another juror he had researched the case on Facebook.

Juries are directed at the beginning of trials to stay away from social media and told not look at or consider anything outside the Court room. However, policing jurors in their own homes is simply impossible. With an abundance of information available at the touch of a button, the temptation to research into trials must be growing.

There are very good reasons why some information is not included in trials, the most significant being that certain information can be more prejudicial than useful.

Social media publications, on the other hand, are unchecked, regularly inaccurate and not subject to the same analysis evidence admitted in a trial is. Thus, a noncompliant juror will be exposed to highly prejudicial material, likely to influence their deliberations.

Associate Professor of Law at the Australian National University, Mark Nolan, stated to ABC News the current situation of social media needs to be addressed.  He recommended alternative methods, such as a data base of questions for the jury to access to get the information they want. This will help eliminate the temptation to turn to phones and computers for answers.

Furthermore, as social media becomes increasingly prevalent, jury trials for high-profile cases are becoming less appropriate. ACT Barrister James Lawton believes it might soon become necessary for these sorts of cases to be heard exclusively by judge alone trials.