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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 November 2005, 12:16 GMT
No-jury trial plan 'presses on'
A Lords vote on the issue has been put off after opposition
The government is to press on with its plans to allow judges to sit without juries in complex fraud trials, despite opposition from lawyers and barristers.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "it is about justice...making sure serious fraudsters are brought to trial".

The proposals, for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, have come about after a number of lengthy cases collapsed.

A Lords vote has been put off after opposition peers aired their concerns.

'Discussions' call

However, speaking on Today, Lord Goldsmith said: "I want to be very clear about this, I am determined that we should press ahead.

"I am now happy to have discussions, because finally people are saying that they are prepared to have discussions."

He said "independent people", as well as senior judges, had said there were cases which had not been able to proceed because of their complexity.

"We need to have the power for judges to say in particular cases, with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, in this case there should not be a jury."

The Attorney General had previously said he had accepted offers from the Conservatives and Lib Dems to seek a compromise.

That could possibly involve cases either being heard by a panel of three judges; a single judge sitting with two magistrates; or a single judge sitting with two expert lay assessors.

Fraud Bill

Whatever the outcome of talks, jury trial would be limited in serious fraud cases, he insisted, despite opposition from the Law Society and Bar Council.

Lord Goldsmith
I want to be very clear about this, I am determined that we should press ahead
Lord Goldsmith QC

Justice was being damaged because so many such cases failed owing to their complexity, he said.

The Fraud Bill, currently before Parliament, could be amended to bring in the changes, he suggested, while admitting the government would have lost a vote in the Lords if they had pressed ahead with it on Tuesday.

He said the new opportunity to examine the issue would give peers a chance to see the "strength of the case" for reducing jury trials.

There is no other part of the justice system which enjoys such public confidence
Guy Mansfield QC

But the president of the Law Society, Kevin Martin, called on the government to "drop the proposal entirely".

"Juries are not to blame for lengthy trials. The solution lies in better case management," he said.

Chairman of the Bar Council Guy Mansfield QC said: "People trust juries, and half a million are called to serve on them each year.

"There is no other part of the justice system which enjoys such public confidence.

"Ministers should drop their controversial plans once and for all."

Non-jury trial plans under fire
21 Nov 05 |  UK Politics
Juries face axe in fraud trials
21 Jun 05 |  UK Politics
60m fraud case collapse probed
23 Mar 05 |  London
Profile: Lord Goldsmith
24 Mar 05 |  UK Politics

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