The independent South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) based at the Adelaide Law School has been working with the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) based at the University of Tasmania to progress the topical and important issue of the right to a fair trial before an impartial jury in the context of social media and the internet.
The joint project arose initially from a reference received by the TLRI from a member of the Tasmanian Bar. Original research was undertaken by Victoria Geason, an Honours research student at the University of Tasmania jointly supervised by the University of Adelaide and the University of Tasmania. The ongoing project, including the preparation of an Issues Paper, a community consultation and the writing of a Final Report for Government has been funded by grant from the Law Foundation of Tasmania.
On 21 August 2019, TLRI released its Issues Paper, Social Media, Jurors and the Right of an Accused to a Fair Trial, http://www.utas.edu.au/law-reform/publications/ongoing-law-reform-projects2.
The right to a fair trial before an impartial jury that reaches that its verdict in accordance with evidence that has been properly admitted and tested at the trial is fundamental. A current concern common to Tasmania and South Australia and elsewhere is how to preserve an accused’s right to a fair trial at a time when social media and other internet platforms are everywhere in daily life. If jurors are influenced by external sources or engage with such sources, they risk undermining an accused’s right to a fair trial before an impartial jury.
The author, Jemma Holt, said the research is a starting point in understanding the use of social media and other online activity during jury trials. Juror misconduct via social media and the internet may be either intentional or unintentional, or, indeed, somewhere in between.
‘The detection of juror misconduct of this kind may be rare, but this does not necessarily mean that such misconduct is, in fact, rare,’ she said.
Associate Professor Terese Henning of TLRI and Professor John Williams of SALRI note that the TLRI and SALRI share unique challenges and opportunities associated with effective law reform in smaller jurisdictions such as Tasmania and South Australia. Associate Professor Henning and Professor Williams said that SALRI and TLRI are committed to working together on topical and contemporary law reform projects such as this.
Dr David Plater of SALRI, a contributor to the project, noted the valuable foundational work done by Honours student, Victoria Geason of the University of Tasmania and Rachel Ingleton, Zoe Underwood and Daniella Chiarolli of the Law Reform class at Adelaide Law School.
Tas LRI Institute invites submissions on this topic until 4 October 2019. The Issues Paper, including an easy-read version, can be found here: http://www.utas.edu.au/law-reform/publications/ongoing-law-reform-projects2. To assist feedback, a submission template is also available for download.
All submissions will inform TLRI’s Final Report which is due to be presented to the Tasmanian Attorney-General in early 2020. It is intended that SALRI will progress the South Australian part of the project in early 2020, drawing on the work to date.