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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Jury trials face major overhaul
Jury service selection
Leaked proposals include fewer trials by jury
The right of thousands of defendants to trial by jury could be scrapped in a radical overhaul of the criminal justice system, a leaked document has revealed.

It contains proposals to reduce the number of trials heard by a jury, and to scrap the rule whereby suspects cannot be tried twice for the same serious offence.

Judges would be allowed to sit alone to hear particularly complex cases or ones which could expose jurors to intimidation.

Overhaul proposals
Trial without jury in fraud cases
More representative juries
Sentencing powers beefed up
'Double jeopardy' rules amended
The government believes the criminal justice system currently favours defendants and the proposals are intended to increase the conviction rate.

Labour peer and lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy regards the proposed changes as "a wholesale assault on civil liberties" and a "knee-jerk reaction".

She believes they could "actually lead to miscarriages of justice and an erosion of the system".

Double jeopardy

On Friday official figures revealed a 7% increase in crimes and it was announced that jails are so overcrowded that some prisoners are being held in police cells.

The leaked White Paper also proposes changes to the double jeopardy rule - under which defendants cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

It suggests it should not apply in cases of "a grave offence punishable by imprisonment", or cases with compelling new evidence where a retrial is "in the interests of justice".

There would also be a clampdown on middle class professionals who try to avoid jury service because of their work commitments.

And juries would be made more representative of their communities by increasing the catchment area.

Scene from magistrates court
Magistrates look set to get more powers
In an attempt to cut the costs run-up by Crown Court trials magistrates would have their sentencing powers doubled to 12 months.

Reports suggest there could also be new police powers to impose bail conditions, including electronic tagging of some suspects who have not been charged.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has ordered a "full-scale inquiry" into how details of the White Paper were leaked to The Independent newspaper.

A spokesman said it was regarded as a "serious" breach of security.

The newspaper reveals the government also plans to take action against lawyers who use delaying tactics to win cases.

A draft version of the document seen by the paper said: "There are too many cases where tactical manoeuvres designed to secure acquittals by disrupting the process mean the right verdict is not reached, and that is simply not good enough."

Caution urged

It went on: "We will not tolerate abuse and obstruction of the system and we will not allow the process to be treated as a game of snakes and ladders by the defence as a tactic to get the defendant off."

Baroness Kennedy believes the legal system is in need of reform, and she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there were "many different ways in which you can do that".

She added that "abuses, if they happen on any sort of significant scale, should be dealt with - but this is not the way to do it".

The measures are about government ministers being seen to talk tough

John Wadham

Civil liberties campaign group Liberty accused the government of "playing fast and loose" with the basic protections for fairness.

Director John Wadham said: "How many times do politicians have to learn that eroding rights doesn't crack crime?"

Sir David Ramsbotham, former chief inspector of prisons, has warned there would be a significant problem if the proposals for change led to further expansion of the prison population.

He said: "That is a terrible problem. I understand that already the Prison Service have had to ask the police to hold them (prisoners), which they haven't done for a number of years."

He added that work and education programmes to help prisoners lead law-abiding lives "cannot be conducted in police cells".

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Leaks of the measures proposed appear radical"
Find out more about criminal justice reforms proposed for England and Wales

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18 Jun 02 | Politics
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