Feature

United Kingdom: A case of too much empathy

With Twitter and Facebook “fizzing temptingly at everyone’s fingertips,” too many of us “have forgotten when to stop communicating,” said Jenny McCartney in The Telegraph.

Jenny McCartneyThe Telegraph

Was the Facebooking juror treated too harshly? asked Jenny McCartney. Manchester mother-of-three Joanne Fraill, who was serving on a jury at a drug trial, has just been sentenced to eight months in prison for contempt of court after messaging one of the defendants via Facebook. Fraill “sobbed uncontrollably” as she heard the sentence, which is longer than many a term handed out to violent criminals. And it’s hard not to sympathize with her.

“For Fraill, the trial had become a soap opera, and the defendants were its players: She suffered from a destructive excess of empathy.” She contacted the defendant, Jamie Sewart, who had just been acquitted but whose co-defendants still awaited their verdicts, and in the course of gushing her sympathy, she “revealed sensitive details of the jury’s ongoing deliberations.”

The result was the scuppering of a multi-million-pound trial. Sending Fraill to jail is intended to deter others from such inappropriate outreach. But given “the slippery interface between a culture of limitless disclosure” and the jury system’s requirement for absolute discretion, that’s an unlikely result. With Twitter and Facebook “fizzing temptingly at everyone’s fingertips,” too many of us “have forgotten when to stop communicating.”

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