Hoang and The Queen  HCA 14 (13 April 2022)
This case is concerned with the duties of citizens who are summonsed to serve on a jury. When a jury is empanelled, the judge presiding at the trial will direct a jury on their obligations as jurors. They must decide the case only on the evidence before them, they must not discuss the case with any person apart from a fellow juror, they must not make their own enquiries, and if a juror becomes aware of another juror not following such directions, then that juror must bring the conduct concerned to the attention of the trial judge.
The reason why jurors must not make their own inquiries is because if they were to take into account information received other than the evidence presented in the courtroom it would be unfair. First, the information may not be accurate. Secondly, it would be unfair because the information would not be known to the accused and the prosecution and they would have no opportunity to test its veracity.
It is now common for trial judges to give a particular warning about jurors conducing inquiries or research on the internet, be it through google, facebook or any other form of social media. Or, the information might be gleaned from discussions with family members or friends or other such persons with whom the juror is prohibited from discussing the case. The extraneous information gathered in such a way might relate to the witnesses or other persons involved in the case, or matters of legal principle.
In the case under discussion, Mr Hoang, was on trial on 12 charges of sexual offences against five children while he was tutoring the children in math. It would readily be apparent that such trials are time consuming and come at a considerable cost to the community.
During the trial, it transpired that Mr Hoang did not have a police clearance to have contact with children. This was not a matter of any real importance in the conduct of the trial. However, one of the jurors was a former teacher, and when she was teaching, she did not have a police clearance.
After the judge’s summing up, the jury deliberated, and, prior to being sent home for the day, informed the court that they had reached a verdict on 8 of the counts. Overnight, the former teacher, out of curiosity, did some research on the internet to find out about police clearances for people who wished to work with children. She discovered that the legislation making that a requirement had not come into force until 2013 – which explained why she, as a teacher prior to that time – had not been required to obtain such a clearance.
The following morning, she revealed the fact of her research to her fellow jurors, and the foreperson, as she was obliged to do, reported what had happened to the trial judge. The trial judge then took the verdicts that had been reached on the previous day as well as verdicts on two counts that had been reached that morning. These amounted to acquittals on 2 counts and verdicts of guilty on 8 counts leaving two counts yet to be decided. The judge then discharged the juror, because her conduct was classed as ‘misconduct’. The jury then deliberated on the remaining counts in the absence of the juror who had been discharged.
On appeal Mr Hoang argued that the judge was wrong to have taken the verdicts without first discharging the juror. In particular, two of the counts on which he was found guilty were ones which involved the input of the offending juror, and which had occurred after she had conducted her research. The High Court upheld Mr Hoang’s appeal . The result was that his convictions on 8 of the counts for which he was found guilty were quashed. He remained convicted of the two counts on which he was found guilty after the discharge of the offending juror. The Court ordered that there be another trial on the 8 counts which had been quashed.
This case demonstrates how important the role of the jury is and how concerned the courts are to ensure the integrity of jury deliberations. The research conducted by the juror was motivated by simple curiosity. The question of police clearances was not central to any issue in the trial. Yet, the research conducted, amounting to misconduct on the juror’s part, meant that she should have been immediately discharged without any verdict being taken.
This case highlights the importance of jurors strictly observing the instructions of a trial judge as regards making their own enquiries, whether on the internet or otherwise. The result in this case was that another trial had to be conducted which would not have happened had the juror observed the judge’s directions. Apart from one issue of the unnecessary cost to the community of a second trial, there is another of the unnecessary extra trauma and distress caused to the child victims and their parents.