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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 12:20 GMT
Jury trial support 'rock solid'
Plans to restrict jury trial met with strong opposition
Public support for trial by jury is "rock solid" and any government move to ditch this legal right would be a "huge mistake", according to top lawyers.

The Bar Council, Law Society and Criminal Bar Association base their assertion on a survey which has found that 84% of respondents said they trusted a jury to come to the right decision in a case.

The findings follow reports that plans to restrict the right to trial by jury in England and Wales could be dropped because of opposition from cabinet ministers.

No final decision on the issue is expected from the government before Easter, when it will give its response to Lord Justice Auld's report on reforming the criminal justice system.

His 700-page report, published last October, suggested the scrapping of jury trials for so-called "either way" cases such as burglary, theft and assault - they account for up to two-thirds of cases heard in crown courts.

Old Bailey
Lord Justice Auld proposes radical changes
Such cases could instead be heard in a middle tier of a new court system in which two magistrates sit with a district judge, Lord Justice Auld suggested.

Bar Council chairman David Bean QC said the new survey findings showed that people trust juries.

Of the 900 people polled, 81% said they thought trial by jury was fairer than being tried by a judge, 80% regard a jury system as capable of producing better justice, and 73% thought a jury would be more likely to reflect their views and values.

'Political miscalculation'

Mr Bean said: "Recent reports of a government change of heart on the issue, if true, are vindicated by these findings, which show that support for juries is rock solid".

Criminal Bar Association chairman Bruce Houlder QC added: "These findings underscore the reported view of the government that to pursue some of Lord Justice Auld's proposals would weaken justice for everyone, would be profoundly unpopular, and would be a political miscalculation".

Home Secretary David Blunkett, Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine of Lairg and the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, are reported to have come out against Lord Justice Auld's proposals.

Earlier plans to limit the right to jury trial, put forward by former Home Secretary Jack Straw, were twice defeated in the Lords.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is understood to have questioned the principle behind reforms proposed by his predecessor.

Public consultation on the Auld Report proposals closes at the end of January but there are reports that another of its ideas - for a new right of appeal against "perverse" jury verdicts - has also been rejected by ministers.

See also:

29 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Labour presses on with jury reform
19 Sep 00 | Liberal Democrats
Trial by jury bill faces defeat
08 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Straw unmoved by Commons rebellion
21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Ministers rethink jury plans
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