Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 18:19 UK

First trial without jury approved

The Scales of Justice at the Old Bailey
The decision has made legal history

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a criminal trial can take place at Crown Court without a jury for the first time in England and Wales.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, made legal history by agreeing to allow the trial to be heard by a judge alone.

It is the first time the power has been used since it came into force in 2007.

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

Lord Judge told the court 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 properly insulate them.

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

'Cash unrecovered'

In addition, it would be "totally unfair" to impose such "additional burdens" on individual jurors, he continued.

The Lord Chief Justice said the trial of the four men - John Twomey, 61, Barry Hibberd, 41, Peter Blake, 56, and Glen Cameron, 49, who are all standing trial for robbery - would "take place without a jury in due course".

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

Where [trial without jury] arises the judge assimilates all the functions of the jury with his own unchanged judicial responsibilities
Lord Judge

It included possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery and conspiracy to rob, he said.

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

But, he went on, the actual proceeds amounted to £1.75m and remain largely unrecovered.

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

"Where it arises the judge assimilates all the functions of the jury with his own unchanged judicial responsibilities," he said.

"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."

This is a dangerous precedent
Isabella Sankey, Liberty

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."

But 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?"

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge
The decision by Lord Judge has made legal history

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.

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

Diplock courts have been used in Northern Ireland since 1973 to combat jury intimidation by paramilitary groups.

And 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.

Print Sponsor

MPs back jury-less fraud trials
25 Jan 07 |  Politics

FROM OTHER NEWS SITES Heathrow robbery trial is first to be heard by judge alone - 24 hrs ago
The Times First criminal trial without a jury - 25 hrs ago
Mail Online UK First trial with no jury: Judge will sit alone to hear case after claims jurors were 'nobbled' - 35 hrs ago
Sky News 'Robbers' Tried With No Jury In Historic Case - 38 hrs ago
The Sun Judges allow trial without jury - 40 hrs ago

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific