Update, Aug. 17, 2007: Muslim juror accused of wearing MP3 player under her hijab escapes punishment
In what is considered the first case of its kind, the woman was arrested for contempt of court after another member of the jury passed a note revealing the indiscretion to the judge, Roger Chapple.
The judge – who previously suspected that he had heard “tinny music” in the background, but dismissed it as his imagination – called the woman into court on her own, and said: “You are going to be discharged from this jury. You will play no further role.”
A police officer then stepped forward and escorted her from court. Outside the woman – who is in her 20s, but cannot be identified for legal reasons – was searched, the MP3 player was found and confiscated, and she was arrested. Contempt of court carries a maximum sentence of an unlimited fine and indefinite imprisonment.
Outside the court Ben Maguire, a barrister representing the prosecution, said that it was a “bad contempt” and prison would be the “likely outcome”.
“It is unique for all those who are connected with this court to experience a situation where the juror is suspected of listening to a MP3 player under her Islamic headgear,” he said.
“Also, it is exceptional for a juror to appear entirely uninterested in the evidence. It is a bad alleged contempt. If contempt is upheld, I would have thought that prison would be the likely outcome,” he said.
The arrest of the juror – which is considered so rare as to be almost unheard of – took place last Wednesday, although it could not be reported until today when the judge lifted a news blackout on the case.
When caught listening to music she was meant to be hearing vital evidence from Alan Wicks, a former businessman on trial for brutally bludgeoning his disabled wife to death after 50 years of marriage. He was later found guilty.
During the trial, members of the jury sitting on the case had become increasingly concerned about the behaviour of the woman, who it emerged had repeatedly tried to avoid legal service.
Weeks earlier, she managed to postpone her first summons. She then answered a second, only to successfully plead toothache two days later.
When the third arrived, and she learnt she had been selected for the Wicks trial which she was told could last up to five weeks, she asked to be excused so she could go job hunting. She mentioned a nursing course she was interested in, but after failing to provide details, she was ordered to serve.
However, problems were reported to have started almost immediately with the first of a number of late arrivals at court, prompting Judge Roger Chapple to repeatedly asked her to change her ways.
The woman continued to arrive late, and left lawyers wondering whether she was “in a world of her own”. Some of those in court became convinced she was doodling instead of reading important documentary exhibits distributed to her and fellow jurors. Neither did she bother putting them away into lever arch files provided for the purpose.
On Tuesday last week, prosecutor Peter Clarke QC asked for her to be discharged, but the judge rejected his application, pointing out the “random selection of jurors was a very important aspect of the trial process”.
Then, last Wednesday, it emerged that she had been listening to her MP3 player, and was discharged and arrested. She was later bailed until July 23, when her case has been listed for a directions hearing before Blackfriars’ senior resident judge Aidan Marron QC.