Solicitor jailed for jury misconduct suspended for eight years

Jury: Case had to be retried

A solicitor jailed for undertaking her own research while serving on a jury has been suspended from practice for eight years, until her ban from sitting on juries ends.

Caroline Mitchell was convicted of intentionally disclosing to other jury members information she had been told not to seek out, in contravention of the Juries Act 1974.

In April 2022, she was sentenced to two months in jail and served four weeks, having resigned from Irwin Mitchell shortly before.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that Ms Mitchell, who qualified in 1995 at Irwin Mitchell, had been an associate solicitor in the personal injury team.

In March 2021, she was selected to sit on a jury in a case that involved a number of allegations of historical sexual abuse offences.

An issue in the case was whether the complainant had a bedroom of his own or shared it with his brother. As the offending was alleged to have taken place some 40 years before, neither the Crown nor the defence could provide independent evidence of the dimensions of the bedroom at that time. The jury was told not to speculate about them.

Ms Mitchell explained that, “without thinking about the propriety of doing so”, one evening at home during the trial she checked the address and neighbouring properties on Rightmove.

She was then caught showing her findings to another juror. As a result, the jury was discharged and the case retried eight months later, with complainant and defendant having to go through the ordeal of giving evidence a second time.

In his sentencing remarks, His Honour Judge Kearn said Ms Mitchell’s personal mitigation was strong, noting too the impact of the conviction on her mental health.

“You have positively shaped the careers of others and I am told that some are here today. You are someone who is honest, kind and compassionate both in a personal and professional environment. You are committed and you have a high degree of skill in your field of expertise. You have a good sense of morality.”

But while the judge was sure Ms Mitchell did not intend 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”.

The solicitor recounted how she had been “terrified” of going to jail but had used her time to assist the other inmates, giving advice on family matters and helping to write CVs.

“Ms Mitchell found her incarceration to be educational and an opportunity for self-reflection. Since her release, Ms Mitchell had been trying to rebuild her life, focusing on her health and well-being,” the SDT recorded.

“She now lived with her parents and had not worked since her release as she felt that she was unable to commit to anything.”

She wanted to return to practice “as she felt she still had a lot to offer and that her experience was valuable. It would also allow her to rebuild her life and to make amends”.

The SDT accepted that Ms Mitchell did not intend to cause the consequences that occurred but noted that she “had had time to consider her actions”, especially given warnings from the trial judge on more than one occasion of the impropriety of jurors undertaking their own research.

“Ms Mitchell had caused significant harm as a result of her conduct, both to the reputation of the profession and the witnesses in the trial…

“The tribunal found that Ms Mitchell had shown genuine insight into her misconduct, notwithstanding her initial position that members of the public would have endorsed her conduct.”

Deciding that a strike-off was not appropriate, the SDT rejected her counsel’s argument that – given most people convicted of a criminal offence were banned from jury service for 10 years – her ban was a “red herring”.

“The tribunal did not agree with that analysis. As a result of her misconduct when serving as a juror, Ms Mitchell has been disqualified from jury service for a period of 10 years.

“The tribunal found that given the underlying conduct amounting to that disqualification, it was not appropriate to allow Ms Mitchell to return to practise during the currency of that disqualification.”

She was also ordered to pay costs of £5,000.

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