Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Importance of Commentary in a Fair Trial

According to news reports, the jury responsible for the outcome of the trial of two men accused of murdering teenager Stephen Lawrence have been told by the judge to stay away from social media sites Twitter and Facebook, in case they include "commentary" of the trial. This is supposedly done in the interest of a fair trial.

This, to me, doesn't quite make sense. I'm not saying I'm against the prospect of a fair trial - far from it - but I'm not sure that isolating the jury from the opinions of the masses is the way to go about it.

The jury is selected randomly in order to represent the rest of the population in coming up with a fair verdict. A small number is chosen simply because it's unfeasible to try and give all that information to everyone in the country and have us all vote on it. But they're still a small group. If they're to represent us, then why are they not allowed to hear what we have to say?

The benefit of social networking - especially twitter - is that everyone can put forward their thoughts on the topics of the day in real time. When it comes to a trial, I don't see why those responsible for coming to a decision can't see what other people are saying about it. Surely by allowing the views of hundreds of more people to be heard, we are making the overall verdict more fair, not less.

I'm not saying they should make looking at twitter the most important aspect of their decision making. After all, they're the ones in the courtroom. They're the ones who see all the evidence, and they're the ones hearing arguments from both sides. Obviously that's the most important thing they should be focussing on. But surely they should still be allowed to see what everyone else thinks about the proceedings - even if they're warned to take it with a little pinch of salt. Because, by our court system, the people tweeting had an equal chance of ending up in that jury. So why ignore their views?

I want a fair trial in every case. And I believe that when it comes down to it, discussion is vital in ensuring the right decision is made. And removing the possibility of discussion with the rest of your peers is not the way to ensure a fair trial.

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