A man who was acquitted on knife charges when jurors took an unauthorised smoke break is set to face a new trial after appeal judges quashed the verdict.
Sitting at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh on Tuesday they ruled that it was not possible to uphold the decision taken by a sheriff in the absence of any material which would suggest that something occurred which would have had an improper influence or pressure on the jury.
Grant Paterson, 25, went on trial after denying allegations of possessing a knife and committing a breach of the peace by brandishing a knife, chasing three men and challenging them to fight in Westfield Street, Falkirk, in Stirlingshire, on October 2 last year.
But on January 17 this year, after Sheriff Thomas McCartney asked them to retire to their room to consider their verdict at Falkirk Sheriff Court, three of the jurors went out the building for a cigarette break escorted by a court officer.
The bar officer had asked other jurors not to begin their deliberations until the three returned.
The sheriff learnt of what had happened and asked the Crown and defence to address him on it and both agreed that what had occurred amounted to a breach of legislation and an acquittal had to follow.
The sheriff went on to acquit him on the charges. But the Crown subsequently challenged the decision claiming that it was unjust and erroneous. It argued that an acquittal was not appropriate in the light of previous cases.
Lord Carloway, who heard the case with Lady Clark and Lord McEwan, said that in terms of a previous case the court had to be satisfied that a breach that occurred had an improper influence or pressure on the jury.
The judge said cigarette or other breaks can be authorised by a sheriff or judge under appropriate supervision. But he added: "Court officials must be made aware of their responsibility to seek proper authority of the judge or sheriff before jurors are separated after seclusion."