Page last updated at 23:45 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 00:45 UK

More Crown Court trials without jury may go ahead

Demonstrators outside court at start of the case, January 2010.
Protesters appeared with "no justice" banners outside court in January

Two more crown court trials without a jury may be held, just over a month after the first juryless trial for centuries, the BBC has learned.

The applications were lodged after a trial in March, when four men were convicted of armed robbery by a judge, because of fears of jury tampering.

It was the first Crown Court criminal trial in England and Wales to be held without jurors for more than 350 years.

Critics called it an attack on a basic democratic right.

'Serious danger'

The Criminal Bar Association, which represents criminal bar members in England and Wales, said the move was chipping away at one of the basic pillars of democracy.

The Crown Prosecution Service has said it is strongly in favour of jury trials unless there are "exceptional circumstances".

The case heard at the Old Bailey in March was preceded by three earlier trials, all of which collapsed.

We will continue to apply for a trial without a jury when we have evidence that justice would not be served otherwise
Portia Ragnauth, Surrey Crown Prosecution Service

Last June, however, the Court of Appeal ruled there was a serious danger a jury could be influenced and so the case became the first to be tried without a jury for centuries.

Mr Justice Treacy found gang leader John Twomey, Peter Blake, Glenn Cameron and Barry Hibberd guilty of making off with £1.75m after an armed raid on a warehouse near Heathrow Airport in 2004.

It was estimated that the cost to the taxpayer to bring the men to justice exceeded £25m - more than 14 times the amount stolen in the raid.

Speaking after the trial, Portia Ragnauth, chief prosecutor for Surrey Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Our jury trial system should not be undermined by any suspected intimidation and jury tampering.

"And we will continue to apply for a trial without a jury when we have evidence that justice would not be served otherwise."

The jury is the basis for us calling the system fair

Since 1641, every person charged with a serious indictable offence in England and Wales was tried in front of a jury, but that right was limited by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

It allows for a "judge only" trial if there is a "real and present danger" that jury tampering would take place, and any reasonable protective measures proposed by the police are insufficient to meet the threat.

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