No jury trial - update

The first no jury Crown court criminal trial started on the 12 January 2010. This follows Lord Judge's ruling last June to allow such a trial due to the risk of jury tampering, at the same time ackowledging the "hallowed principle" of jury trials.

The first crown court criminal trial to be held without a jury in England and Wales for more than 350 years commenced at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday 12 January 2010.  

The case concerns four men accused of a £1.75m armed robbery at a cash depot at Heathrow Airport, in 2004.

Last June, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge made legal history by allowing the trial to be heard by a judge alone as he feared jury "tampering".

Sam Stein QC, representing one of the men, pointed out: "We are breaking history. This is the first time that a court has started a jury-less trial." 


The trial is the fourth in this troubled robbery case.

Not everyone is happy with Lord Judges's ruling. 

Roger Smith, Director of the law reform and human rights group Justice, has been reported as saying: "The worry is that this is the thin end of the wedge and that it is likely to be expanded. As one senior judge (referring to Mr Justice Calvert-Smith who turned down an earlier application) looked at this and thought it should be safely tried with a jury, it should have been."

According to Paul Mendelle QC of the Criminal Bar Association "Some principles of justice are beyond price - trial by your peers is one of them".  No doubt the debate about holding a criminal trial without jury will continue.

However, the principle has now been limited by Parliament under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

It came into force in 2007 and provides for trial without jury if there is a 'real and present' danger that jury tampering would take place, in circumstances where any measures to protect the jurors are considered to be inadequate.

For those legal historians amongst us, trial by jury is a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system and traces its roots back to the signing of Magna Carta by King John in 1215.  People in this country have not been tried for serious criminal offences on indictment in the absence of a jury, since 1641 and the abolition of the notorious Court of Star Chamber, favoured by monarchs and royalists.
However, the principle has now limited approval by Parliament under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  The measure came into force in 2007 and provides for trial without jury provided there is a 'real and present' danger that jury tampering would take place, in circumstances where any measures to protect the jurors are considered to be inadequate.



 Daniel New (left) and Brian O'Callaghan
Supporters of the defendants protested outside court


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