Jim Devine, Jailed MP, Complains Of Trial Issues
Press Association -- An expenses cheat MP who carried on regardless in the face of public anger has complained from behind bars about the difficulties of getting a fair trial in the internet age.
Jim Devine, who was jailed for 16 months after being branded a liar by his trial judge, questioned whether jurors listened to the judge's warning not to research the case online.
He complained that his "public and private reputation was trashed on the internet" and said several MPs were concerned "about the ability of an individual to receive a fair trial in the internet age".
His letter, to the prisoners' newspaper Converse, comes after the first juror to be prosecuted for contempt of court for using the internet was jailed for eight months in June.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other senior judges used the case of Joanne Fraill, 40, who admitted chatting with an acquitted defendant on Facebook, to warn jurors generally not to undermine the country's "precious jury system" by discussing or researching their cases online.
Devine, 58, wrote: "Along with my parliamentary colleagues my public and private reputation was trashed on the internet. At the start of my trial the judge told the jury not to trawl the internet looking for stories about myself - does anyone believe that every juror followed that instruction? I know several senior MPs that are very concerned about the ability of an individual to receive a fair trial in the internet age."
The former Labour MP for Livingston, who was sent to Belmarsh Prison in south-east London before being transferred to the lower security Standford Hill Prison in Sheerness, Kent, also said he knew "at least 10 prisoners" who thought "tabloid reporting" had jeopardised their chances of a fair trial.
Last month, Fraill, a mother of three with three stepchildren, admitted using Facebook to exchange messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant already acquitted in a complex multimillion-pound drug trial last year. She contacted Sewart, a mother of two from Bolton, Greater Manchester, after Sewart was cleared of conspiracy to supply drugs to express sympathy and wish her well. During their exchanges, Sewart asked about an outstanding charge.
The High Court judges said Fraill's conduct in visiting the internet repeatedly was "directly contrary to her oath as a juror". In a warning to jurors present and future up and down the country, Lord Judge declared that a custodial sentence for a juror committing similar contempt "is virtually inevitable".
Fraill, from Blackley, Manchester, was jailed for eight months and is expected to serve four months before becoming eligible for early release.