Times appeal refused over jury secrets fine

The Times and jury foreman Michael Seckerson, who were fined for contempt for disclosing “secrets of the jury room” after a manslaughter trial, have been refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The newspaper was fined £15,000 and Seckerson £500 on May 22, a week after the Administrative Court of the High Court found that they breached the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

The case was brought by Attorney General Baroness Scotland QC under Section 8 of the 1981 Act, which bans disclosure of “votes cast, statements made, opinions expressed or arguments advanced” by members of a jury in their deliberations.

Seckerson, 66, a retired lecturer at East Berkshire College, was one of two jurors who dissented from the 10-2 majority verdict in the case of Keran Henderson, a child minder convicted of the manslaughter of a child in her care, 11-month-old Maeve Sheppard.

Henderson, who was jailed for three years, has appealed against her conviction.

Lord Justice Pill and Mr Justice Sweeney had heard that, on December 19, 2007, five weeks after Henderson’s trial at Reading Crown Court trial, The Times published articles by legal editor Frances Gibb reporting that two jurors were questioning the verdict and the role played by complicated evidence from expert medical witnesses.

The Times and Mr Seckerson had argued that contempt proceedings could not be justified in this case in the light of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, subject to exceptions such as the need to maintain the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The Times had also argued that there was no damage to the administration of justice; no individual juror was identified; no individual’s opinions were disclosed, and the articles were written in good faith, after taking legal advice, on a matter of public importance – the heavy reliance placed on expert medical evidence in “shaken baby” cases.

Lord Justice Pill said the court acknowledged those mitigating factors, but had to impose penalties “sufficient to mark the seriousness of breaches of Section 8 and to deter others from following the example of this juror and this newspaper”.

The Attorney General was awarded £27,426 costs, which had to be paid by The Times because Mr Seckerson was legally-aided and the judges ruled that costs should not be enforced against him without leave of the court.

The newspaper said in a statement after being fined: “The Times believes that this judgment is a serious infringement of its Article 10 right to free speech and its duty to act as watchdog in a democratic society, particularly in complex cases where there could be a serious injustice.”

If the court’s judgment were not reversed by the House of Lords, it would have “a very serious chilling effect on jurors and newspapers trying to bring to the attention of the public areas of very considerable public concern, particularly in manslaughter cases involving the deaths of babies and the use of expert witnesses”.

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