Juror who researched witness on social media avoids prison with £500 fine

A juror who trawled Facebook for information about a witness despite being told not to has avoided going to jail for contempt of court.

Elisabeth Howden, 49, also said one of the accused looked at her in a “funny” way.

Ms Howden, of Kilwinning, Ayrshire had been selected for jury duty at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court.

Prior to being sworn in, jurors were warned about discussing the case with others and were told not to inquire into those concerned in the case – especially online.

However, Ms Howden said thought she knew the sister of a witness so researched the family on social media.

When she returned to court she passed a message to Sheriff Elizabeth McFarlane which explained what she had done and added that an accused had looked at her “funny”.

Ms Howden was thereafter removed from the jury by Sheriff McFarlane and was advised to seek legal representation for potentially being in contempt of court.

She managed to escape custody, receiving a £500 fine.

David McSorley, defending, said Ms Howden was aware of the seriousness of the situation and that she was “extremely worried and frightened”

Mr McSorley added: “She has, I understand, previously served on a jury without any difficulties two years ago.”

Sheriff McFarlane told Howden: “Jury duty is an extremely serious and important civic duty and the administration of justice in this court and other across the country depends on the conduct of jurors.

“You were instructed not to make inquiries or carry out any investigations of your own, and I particularly mentioned Facebook.”

The judge explained her instruction was not a request but an order and that she held Ms Howden in contempt of court for her “flagrant” breach.

She added: “I have to send out a strong message to potential jurors in this jurisdiction that the courts will not tolerate contempt.

“I’m going to step back from sentencing you to a period of imprisonment but I have to tell you that was foremost in my mind.”