Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Non-jury trial option 'essential' says Goggins

Witness box in Belfast Magistrates Court
Non-jury trials were designed to thwart intimidation of witnesses

Non-jury trials are still an essential option in Northern Ireland, Justice Minister Paul Goggins has said.

Non-jury courts were introduced for paramilitary type offences after a 1972 report by senior judge Lord Diplock.

The government technically abolished Diplock courts in 2007 but non-jury trials can be used if jurors are believed to be at risk of intimidation.

Between 1 August 2008 and 31 July 2009, 13 non-jury trials were held, down from 29 in the previous year.

Mr Goggins said he "looked forward to the day when government can return to jury trials in all cases".

"The number of non-jury trials has fallen but we still consider that they are sometimes necessary for the delivery of a fair justice system," he said.

"There will be a comprehensive review of the non-jury trial system, including a full public consultation, before it next falls to be renewed in July 2011."

Witness intimidation

Non-jury trials were introduced in Northern Ireland in 1972 as a response to witness intimidation by paramilitary groups.

The introduction of 'Diplock' courts were opposed by civil liberty organisations and both nationalists and republicans.

At their peak, more than 300 trials per year were held without a jury.

Some of those operating the system were targeted by the IRA and, in 1987, Lord Justice Maurice Gibson and his wife were killed by a bomb.

In January, there was a legal first for England and Wales with the beginning of a crown court non-jury criminal trial.

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

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

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