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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 21:30 GMT
MPs back jury-less fraud trials
Jury summons
Ministers say long fraud trials put an intolerable pressure on jurors
MPs have voted to end trial by jury in complex fraud cases, despite strong opposition to the government's plans.

The Fraud (Trials Without A Jury) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons, although the government's majority was nearly halved.

It will now go to the Lords, where it is expected to face fierce opposition.

Critics say the right to trial by jury is a bedrock of the criminal justice system. But the government says major trials put too much pressure on jurors.

Several high-profile fraud trials have collapsed, such as the 60m Jubilee Line case, which lasted 21 months.

'No breach'

Ministers say justice can be served by a High Court judge sitting alone. They want to allow prosecution lawyers to apply to the judge for trial without jury, subject to the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.

During the third reading debate, Solicitor General Mike O'Brien said they would only be appropriate in about six cases a year.

There wasn't a single Labour backbench speech today in favour of the bill
Simon Hughes
Lib Dem spokesman

He told MPs: "No fundamental principle is being breached in this bill.

"It is dealing with a specific issue and ensuring it is dealt with in a way that is manageable for the courts and also ensures justice is done."

But speaking after the vote, which the government won by 281 votes to 246, Lib Dem constitutional affairs Simon Hughes said the legislation was "in serious trouble".

"There wasn't a single Labour backbench speech today in favour of the bill," he said.

The Lib Dems have pledged to try to scupper the plans when it is debated in the Lords, in which case the government might have to resort to the Parliament Act to get the bill through.

Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the bill sent out "a dreadful message about the way it views participatory democracy in this country".

And some Labour backbenchers opposed the move. Former minister Keith Vaz, who is a barrister, said he would abstain from the vote. "When you are taking away a fundamental principle that goes back to the Magna Carta, which is trial by jury, you need to be very, very careful."


SEE ALSO
Warning over trials without jury
29 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
Reform planned for fraud trials
15 Nov 06 |  Business
No-jury trial plan 'presses on'
26 Nov 05 |  UK Politics
60m fraud case collapse probed
23 Mar 05 |  London

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