York solicitor jailed for scuppering trial in which she was a jury member

Justice statue
Justice statue

A YORK solicitor who "undermined justice" at York Crown Court in a child sexual abuse trial when sitting as a juror has been jailed.

Caroline Elizabeth Mitchell broke the orders of Judge Simon Hickey and her juror's oath by doing her own research into the case and telling other jurors what she had discovered, Leeds Crown Court heard this afternoon (Thursday, April 28).

Michael Smith, prosecuting, said her actions meant the jury had to be discharged and the trial abandoned at an estimated cost of £30,000.

The complainant and defendant had to wait eight months for a new trial and give evidence for a second time, the court heard.

Rodney Ferm, defending, said Mitchell had been sacked by the solicitor's firm where she was a senior lawyer, and now faces being struck off as a solicitor.

"This is simply a terrible day in the life of Caroline Mitchell," he said.

Mitchell, 53, of North Parade, Clifton, pleaded guilty to disclosing information to other jurors. She worked in civil law.

"I don't doubt you didn't intend to undermine the course of justice but that is the effect of what you were doing," the Recorder of Leeds, Judge Guy Kearl QC, said as he jailed her for two months.

By telling other jurors information she had found on the internet on an important part of the evidence, she had risked them returning the wrong verdict.

As a solicitor, she knew "the importance of court orders and the consequences of breaching them," he said.

She had had time to reflect on what she was doing because she had found information on the internet in the evening, taken a screenshot and then showed that on her iPad to other jurors the next day.

"I have formed the view in line with the facts ... appropriate punishment can only be be found by an immediate custodial sentence," he said.

Mr Smith said Mitchell, and the rest of the jury, had been told not to do their own research, including on the internet, both verbally and in writing at the start of the trial.

Later in the trial, the jury had been told not to speculate on the issue which she had researched. In her basis of plea, she said she had not heard that warning.

Mr Ferm said the trial had revived suppressed childhood memories of sexual abuse that she had never reported and which had led to her actions.

She had been looking on an estate agency website for reasons unconnected with the trial and then had decided to use it for her research.

After the jury was discharged, she had sent a letter of apology to the court and was deeply remorseful. Since the trial, she had received medication and counselling for depression.

The judge said references handed in by the defence described her a "kind and compassionate" person in her professional and private life, who had founded the South Yorkshire branch of one charity dealing with brain injuries and raised money for a second.