Solicitor suspended for eight years for jury internet research

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By Rhys Duncan on

13

Ex-Irwin Mitchell associate spent four weeks in prison 


A solicitor has been suspended from practice for eight years after carrying out her own research whilst sat on a jury.

Caroline Mitchell, a former associate at Irwin Mitchell, spent four weeks in prison for her actions after admitting to intentionally disclosing to other jury members information obtained in contravention of the Juries Act 1974. 

Mitchell, who previously had an unblemished 25-year career, was selected in March 2021 to sit on a jury in a case involving multiple allegations of historic sexual abuse. 

An issue within the trial related to whether the complainant shared a bedroom with his brother. With the offence dating back 40 years, neither the prosecution nor defence were able to offer the dimensions of the bedroom at the time of the alleged incident. The jury were instructed not to speculate about the size of the room, and not to carry out any independent research.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that whilst at home on property website Rightmove, Mitchell said that “without thinking about the propriety of doing so”, she searched for the property in question and obtained a floor plan of a neighbouring house. She then showed this to another juror in subsequent discussions. 

The jury were discharged, and the case reheard eight months later, with the complainant and defendant required to give evidence for a second time. Mitchell was then prosecuted and sentenced to two months in prison, of which she served four weeks.

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At the time of sentencing, HHJ Kearn noted how Mitchell was “highly regarded by many not only for [her] work as a solicitor by [her] colleagues and counsel but also in the community.” The judge continued that she was “honest, kind and compassionate both in a personal and professional environment”, and that she was “committed”, and had “a high degree of skill” in her field. 

It was also stressed by Mitchell that “her actions were not a deliberate act in defiance of those [the judge’s] directions and warnings. They were mistakes made at the end of a hard day, sitting as a juror on a difficult case. She had not thought about what she was doing and it had not occurred to her, until it was pointed out, that what she had done was wrong.”

However, although the judge found that she has not intended to undermine the course of justice “that was the effect of what you were doing and so it is against that background that I must determine the sentence to be passed”.

Mitchell explained that she was “terrified” during her time in prison, having been advised by prison officers to “keep her head down”. Despite this, “she used her time to assist the other inmates, giving advice on family matters and helping to write CV’s. Ms Mitchell found her incarceration to be educational and an opportunity for self-reflection.”

In deciding to suspend her from practice for eight years, the SDT took note of the trial judges reasoning, holding that she “had been motivated by her investment in the case and trying to obtain a just outcome”.

Nevertheless, the tribunal found that the conduct was “extremely serious and had caused significant harm.” In particular, it had “impacted the trust placed by victims in the justice system and in the solicitors’ profession”, and “caused significant delays in the proper administration of Justice.” 

The eight-year suspension prevents Mitchell from working as a solicitor until the end of her disqualification from jury service. She was also ordered to pay costs of £5,000.

13 Comments

anon

8 years sounds ludicrously excessive given the judge’s comments. At 25 yrs pqe this appears to be career ending and far more punitive than the prison sentence

Anon

At least she already had 25 yrs pqe behind her, had she been a trainee or NQ she would have been banned rather than merely suspended.

Junior Bazza

Whilst SITTING on a jury. Not “sat”. Please.

7 years PQE

This does seem like an excessive outcome given the motivation and ultimate impact – but nothing new there from the SDT. 8 year ban will permit her to practice again in her 60s.

Archibald O'Pomposity

PRACTISE.

Yorkshire Solicitor

It is really quite sad. It sounds like it was a spur of a moment decision which occurred in the space of a few minutes whilst she was trying to help. Yes the outcome was serious and significant but there was no mallace. Both the prison sentence and the 8 year suspension seem very harsh. Even people who purposely set out and commit ABH, burglaries shoplifting etc. often avoid a custodial sentence (or it is at least suspended). Some community service or a suspended sentence, and a requirement for her to be supervised whilst practicing for circa 2 years, would have been far more proportionate.

Archibald O'Pomposity

MALICE.

Cowboy

Any of us who have spent decades prosecuting and defending in Crown Court trials know how irritating it is to have a Miss Marple on the Jury but that is manageable by the Judge (in consultation with Counsel on each side ) when the silly notes arise . However , when it is a Professional colleague ignoring the plain verbal and written directions given by the Judge to all jurors to embark on their own investigation , that is unforgivable . It is both an arrogant and willful disregard and contempt for our justice system (and the damage and destruction caused to the people involved in the case ) when people like this go off on a frolic of their own . If it hadn’t been so serious , she would have got away with a suspended sentence . The SDT’s decision was lenient

Archibald O'Pomposity

Next time she wants to go awry, she needs to bottle someone in a bar. Guaranteed suspended sentence max.

Silly idea

Didn’t realise qualified solicitors/barristers could sit on a jury – they can’t north of the border.

Seems like asking for the qualified jury member to form their own decisions on the law instead of the facts presented.

Cowboy

They have been doing so for some years now . Police Officers and Judges also regularly sit on Juries .

Help

I absolutely do not understand why what she did was so bad. I’m totally flabbergasted. Can someone explain?

Cowboy

For the reasons given in my earlier post . In summary it is because it completely undermines our system of justice and wastes thousands of pounds of tax payers’ money and further increases the back log of cases in the Criminal Courts . It is obvious from the report that this was deliberate mischief in terms of wilfully disobeying the Judge’s Directions and not a spur of the moment error even if she (and rather worryingly some posters here) genuinely thought she wasn’t doing any harm.

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