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October 29, 2013 4:58 pm
A 12-strong jury was sworn in on Tuesday for the trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charlie Brooks, and six former News International employees.
After he oversaw the swearing in Mr Justice Saunders gave the jury of nine women and three men a detailed list of directions about using social media and the internet, telling them : “In a way in this case not just the defendants are on trial but British justice is on trial.”
He said it was central to the principle of trial by jury that they must base their verdict only on the evidence and arguments heard in court.
The judge told them the case had attracted an “unprecedented amount” of publicity, and that some of the attention had focused on certain defendants not only through the press and broadcast media, but also via the internet “which is not controlled”, and often accompanied by “opinion and speculation” on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
He singled out the latest edition of Private Eye magazine which features Ms Brooks on the cover and which the judge said was supposed to be “satire”.
“You ignore it,” he told the jury. “It is one of those things you have to ignore,” adding it was a “joke in especially bad taste”.
The Attorney General’s Office said this afternoon in a statement that it does not intend to take any action regarding the Private Eye cover as “it has been decided that proceedings for a potential contempt of court are not required in this case”.
Mr Justice Saunders spoke of the dangers of the internet for jurors saying that often online comments and speculation were “ill informed” and “abusive”.
The judge added that the role of the jury was a “vital one” and ordered they ignore comments on the case on social media and focus their attention on the evidence heard in court.
He also ordered them to ignore publicity and media reporting during the trial and focus on what they heard in court. “You are in the best position to judge what is important evidence and what is not.
“It is your view that matters not the view of the person reporting the evidence,” the judge said, adding that jurors should not be tempted to look things up.
He told them that well-known people such as actors or politicians often tweeted about matters outside their area of expertise and about which they were “uninformed”.
“I hope they will not do so in the trial and they may be breaking the law if they do,” he said, adding that websites hosted abroad were very difficult to control.
He said it was the verdict of “you 12 and only you 12 we want at the end of the trial”, adding they should not discuss the case lest they be influenced consciously or subconsciously. He also urged them to consider whether they needed to use social media sites like Facebook to keep in touch with friends during the trial, although he was not banning their use of social media.
He said seeking out information about the case or discussing it outside the jury could put them in contempt of court and even lead to their imprisonment. If fellow jurors were known to have done so, the jury should inform the judge via the jury bailiff, he said, adding that the jury would be given a special room in the court to ensure they were not overheard in their deliberations.
He joked that he hoped the jury would be “friends for life” by the end of the six month trial.
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