Judge alone trial causing concern

Sunday 25 April 2010 at 5:49 am | In News | Post Comment
Four men convicted without a jury
The conviction this month of four men without a jury has continued to cause concern.  Media organisations, including The Times, are to challenge a “public interest immunity” provision under which evidence is kept secret even though the trial has ended.

Four men were found guilty by a single judge of a £1.75 million armed robbery at Heathrow in 2004, they had hoped to have stolen £10million. Two previous trials juries failed to reach verdicts a third was stopped because of jury tampering.

The trial at the Old Bailey was the first to use controversial provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that allow for trial by a judge sitting alone when there is a danger of jury tampering.

It is expected that other cases will follow the first trial without a jury in 400 years. Parallel measures for judge-alone trials in fraud cases are on the statute book but not in force.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty said: “Jury trial has been an age-old method of boosting confidence and legitimacy in the criminal justice system. Without it, the professional classes appear to sit in permanent judgment over ordinary people.”

The men were convicted for tying up and holding at gunpoint 16 terrified employees and subjecting them to a frightening and violent attack.

The decision to allow a trial without a jury in the Heathrow case was taken by the Court of Appeal in June 2009. It followed an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad, which found that “approaches” had been made to two members of the jury in the third trial arising from the robbery. Because of sensitivity and risks, defence teams have never been allowed to know what the jury tampering evidence is.

Paul Mendelle, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said that trial by jury was a fundamental constitutional right dating back 800 years, he believes that cost is the reason for the removal of the right.  It has been estimated that providing protection for the jury would cost in the region of £6 million and need more than 82 police officers, but a trial with only a judge would cost £1.6 million and require only 32 officers.

The latest trial lasted less than three months or roughly half the time it would have taken with a jury. The judge Mr Justice Treacy sitting alone, deliberated for 12 days.

The judge sentenced the four men to, life, 20 years, 17 years and 15 years.

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