Everything from their choice of coffee to the number of pens they used in court was scrutinised for clues – but now the Jackson trial jury have delivered verdicts they are certain to face the cameras to tell all about their decisions.
The eight women and four men, aged between 20 and 79, are likely to be familiar sights on TV screens across the globe as the world’s media rake over Michael Jackson’s fate.
One of the panel, a Santa Maria grandmother, has already talked of appearing on ’Oprah and ’60 Minutes’ and is rumoured to have clinched a book deal to reveal all about the secret deliberations.
The first amendment of the US constitution offers Americans the freedom of speech to do so – in England a juror doing the same would find themselves in the dock
In American celebrity trials – notably following OJ Simpson’s 1995 murder acquittal – it is a matter of routine for the panel to almost immediately disclose any arguments which raged amongst them, or their private concerns about the verdict.
Seasoned court watchers covering Jackson’s case even drew daily inferences from the jury’s choice of attire – with smart “TV” clothes taken as a sign a conclusion was imminent.
Though the practice may be standard in the US, English legal convention is to protect the privacy of jury deliberations.
Individuals and news organisations which have sought to uncover the goings-on behind closed doors in English courts have found themselves fined or rebuked.
In 1979, the New Statesmen published an account of a juror in the trial of former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, who was acquitted with three other men of conspiracy to murder a former male model.
The jury member claimed there were aspects of the handling of the case by his colleagues which needed to be made public.
Following a application by the Attorney General, the Divisional Court ruled that the magazine had been in contempt and said there was an “apparently diminishing respect for the convention of observance of jury secrecy“.
Soon after, new contempt laws were drafted making revelations about jury deliberations punishable by a two year jail sentence.
The 1981 Contempt of Court Act also covers those who plan to offer inducements to jurors for their story, prohibiting attempts to “obtain, disclose, or solicit” details of jury room discussions.
Following the end of the 1992 Blue Arrow fraud case, which had cost around £40m and lasted 12 months, the Mail on Sunday was fined £75,000 after it published a juror’s recollections on how verdicts had finally been reached.
Mike Dodd, deputy editor of Media Lawyer, said: “There are two elements to the matter of jurors making revelations about their case in this country, the Contempt of Court Act and common law, or judge made law.
“They basically say the same thing, that the secrets of the jury room are sacrosanct.”
He said those laws are enforced to ensure jurors can speak freely during deliberations and because it is thought any revelation of dissent within a jury room may undermine public confidence in the law.
However, with the US showing none of the same restraint, Jackson’s panel of peers will prepare to face the ranks of press camped outside the Santa Maria courthouse almost as soon as their
foreman has addressed Judge Rodney Melville.