The Lord Chief Justice in England and Wales has drawn attention to the undermining effect of social media and mobile devices on the UK’s courts system of jury’s. All parties, within court, are entitled to a “fair trial” and it appears that technological progress and changes in human behaviour are undermining this.

What has this to do with information security? Securing the integrity of business processes is core to information security best practice. In this case the use of technology and changes in people’s behaviour stands accused, by the Lord Chief Justice, of undermining the integrity of judicial process within England and Wales. You cannot get a much bigger impact than that.

What’s a Fair Trial?

This means, amongst other things, those jurors should not be influenced by information on the case from outside of the courts. Neither should jurors discuss the case with people outside of the case. Any defendant who can provide evidence that their right to a “fair trial” has been breached or compromised may have grounds to ask for a new jury or a restart to the trial.

What’s the Problem?

The wide spread use of personal mobile devices means that jurors have access to sources of information which may prejudice a trial including social networks and online media. These enable jurors to openly discuss ongoing cases with anyone and everyone. They can be influenced by what is said outside of court just as much as what is said internally. Is this actually happening? Yes- there are several examples this year of the use of mobile phones and discussion of ongoing court cases by jurors has caused significant disruption.

What’s the Impact?

The obvious point is that this undermines the integrity of the jury process which could undermine one of the pillars of the jury based legal system. It could provide grounds for trials and verdicts being quashed and at a minimum re-starting a trial if discovered.

Not so obvious is the potential financial impact of replacing a jury and re-starting a trial or the reduced productivity of the courts themselves. The issue of the cost of the judicial system is always a hot contentious one.

However there is increasing evidence that this fundamental right and therefore the effectiveness of the jury system is under threat and at significant risk.

Solutions

The suggestion is that courts should make jury’s understand, in no uncertain terms, that discussing or reading about the ongoing case outside of court, using mobile phones or social media etc, will undermine the process and that they should not do so. However how effective would this be? Would it reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring?

Refusing jury’s rights of access to the web could be too draconian. And with the coalition’s decision to force citizens to access government services only through the web such a move to manage these risks could find government policy coming into conflict with constitutional rights.

It’s an interesting illustration of how information security can effect broader policy within a nation state and not be reserved for purely organisational operational issues.