Rules on juror comments pre-date social media
However, restriction around discussing the deliberations is clearly set out in document
The document says: “It is contempt of court punishable by fine and or imprisonment to repeat any statements made in the jury room.”
The rules around jury service in the Republic, and whether jurors can make comment after a trial about their deliberations, appear out of step with the modern era.
There is no mention, for example, of restrictions around making comment on social media or elsewhere online during or after a case, as has happened with a juror on the Belfast rape case.
However, there are catch-all provisions in juror rules, and in case law that predates social media or notice boards, which restricts such activity by jurors.
The Courts Service has produced rules setting out the “functions and duties of a juror”.
A restriction around discussing the deliberations of the jury is clearly set out in the document.
“Jurors must keep statements made in the jury room confidential,” it states. “Jurors should not discuss the case with any person other than members of the jury.
“It is contempt of court punishable by fine and or imprisonment to repeat any statements made in the jury room.”
Other duties include the obligation to make decisions based only on the facts of the case, remain impartial and independent and to notify the court if any effort is made to influence them.
In the Republic, rules around juries – how they are selected and how they function – are provided for in legislation by the Juries Act 1976.
But the Act is silent on the secrecy of jury deliberations.
Legal sources said judges usually inform jurors about what is expected of them and what they are and are not allowed to do.
The sources said judges inform jurors not to discuss the case without anyone outside the jury. And in recent years those warnings, the sources pointed out, extended to reading material on social media or researching a crime or the accused person online.
One legal source said while the Juries Act 1976 was silent on jurors breaching secrecy and so did not criminalise it, the rules set out by the Courts Service and committing contempt of court by acting in the face of a judge’s instructions to the juror were ample.
“The reality is that if a juror did make comment afterwards, the judge could call them back into court and find them in contempt,” the source said.
“In such cases somebody regarded as having done something like this deliberately could face six to 12 months in prison.
“But if a juror said that they made a mistake without thinking, they were very sorry and agreed to desist; it would probably go no further than a dressing down by a judge.”
In Northern Ireland, the procedures for selection and running a jury are very similar.
During jury deliberations, no outside communication is allowed, except through the jury keepers – usually members of court security staff – who are assigned at the start of the trial.
It is an offence – contempt of court – punishable by a fine or imprisonment, for a juror to tell anyone about any statements, opinions, arguments or votes made by members of the jury while they are considering the case.
It is also an offence to reveal details of any juror. At the conclusion of a trial of an exceptionally exacting nature, the judge may direct that the members of the jury be excused from further jury service.