No jury trial approved

The Court of Appeal ruling that a criminal trial can take place without a jury for the first time in England and Wales makes legal history.

The Court of Appeal ruling that a criminal trial can take place  without a jury for the first time in England and Wales makes legal history.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, made legal history by allowing the trial to be heard by a judge alone.  As most law students will know criminal trials at the Crown court are held before a judge and a jury.

The power came into force in 2007 but this is the first time the power has been used.

The case is about four men accused of an armed robbery at Heathrow Airport in 2004. The judge said jury "tampering" was a "very significant" possibility.

Lord Judge announced that  the cost of the measures needed to protect jurors from potential influence, such as the services of police officers, was too high and that such measures may not in any event be effective.

Lord Judge said that they "did not sufficiently address the potential problem of interference with jurors through their families," .

Lord Judge also referred to the unfairness of imposing "additional burdens" on individual jurors.

Lord Judge, sitting with Lord Justice Goldring and Mr Justice McCombe, explained that the case had been brought to trial three previous times and alleged "very serious criminal activity".

The court were informed that the case included possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery and conspiracy to rob.

"The objective of the robbery was something in the region of £10m in sterling and mixed foreign currency," Lord  Judge told the court.

Apparently the actual proceeds amounted to £1.75m and have still not been recovered in full.

Lord Judge described trial by jury as a "hallowed principle" of British justice, but noted that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 did allow a trial to be heard by a judge alone in appropriate situations.

Lord Judge went on to explain that "where it arises the judge assimilates all the functions of the jury with his own unchanged judicial responsibilities".

"This function, although new in the context of trial on indictment, is well known in the ordinary operation of the criminal justice system and is exercised for example by district judges [magistrates' courts] in less serious, summary cases."

Crown Prosecution Service

There may have been the possibility that due to concerns about the fairness of any trial that the individuals may not have faced justice.  A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: "Rather than the case not proceeding at all this decision enables these defendants, who we allege are involved in serious criminal activity, to be tried and brought to justice."

Liberty

Liberty director of policy Isabella Sankey said: "This is a dangerous precedent. The right to jury trial isn't just a hallowed principle but a practice that ensures that one class of people don't sit in judgement over another and the public have confidence in an open and representative justice system. What signal do we send to witnesses if the police can't even protect juries?"

Legal History in the making

The new trial will be the first Crown Court case in England and Wales to be heard by a judge alone using powers under Sections 44 and 46 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which came into force in July 2007.

It allows for a trial without a jury when there is evidence of "a real and present danger that jury tampering would take place" and where additional measures to prevent it would not fully succeed, hence Lord Judge's reference to the need to be able to extend protection to families of jurors.

No-jury trials are a more regular feature of justice elsewhere in the UK.

Some of you may have learnt that elsewhere in the UK no jury trials are a more common feature.  Diplock courts (named after Lord Diplock) have been used in Northern Ireland since 1973 to combat jury intimidation by paramilitary groups.

Some criminal cases in Scotland are heard by a Sheriff in the Sheriff Court or by a bench of one or more lay justices in the District Court.

 

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