Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Nailed at last .... men convicted at the first non-jury trial in the Crown Court

The four men - (Twomey, Blake, Hibberd and Cameron) - charged with a large-scale robbery committed at Heathrow in 2004 have been convicted by Mr Justice Treacy who heard the case without a jury.  See Telegraph 31st March 2010 and the earlier post on this blog.

This non-jury trial was the first under controversial provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 Part 7 which permits non-jury trial in cases of jury tampering.  There is no doubt that defenders of non-jury trial will point to the fact that (a) it enabled these men to be eventually brought to justice and (b) the trial was shorter than would have been the case with a jury and maybe point (b) will be turned into an argument that money could be saved by having more such trials.  Those who defend jury trial will point to the trial being the thin end of a wedge which will lead to loss of juries and the ancient idea of condemnation or exoneration by one's peers.

It is interesting to note that intimidation of jurors is an offence under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 s.51.   Will charges follow given that the basis of the non-jury trial was jury tampering?  This seems rather doubtful.  Proving intimidation to the criminal standard would require the presentation of the evidence in court and the decision to order this non-jury trial was based on "secret" information - see R v TR and others [2009] EWCA Crim 1035. - which was seen by the judges under Public Interest Immunity rules.

Addendum 1st April 2010:  In The Times, Frances Gibb, discusses the implications for the future of jury trial.  As widely anticipated, the thin end of the wedge has been inserted and the wedge is likely to be pushed further.  Also, it is worth noting that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is not the only Act under which a non-jury trial can be ordered.  The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 s.17 also permits non-jury trial in certain circumstances.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Parliament is gradually eroding the right to jury trial and this is being done by the creation of exceptions which, over time, will be used anything but exceptionally.

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