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Departing from 400 years of tradition, Britain allows first non-jury criminal trial!

Feb 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Page

The hallmark of Anglo-American justice – the jury trial — has just fallen.   The Crown proposed to try Peter Blake and his associates for the $3.2 million dollar  Heathrow robbery  without a jury.  The following is the report as it appeared in 19 Feb 2010  Times:

The jury-less trial of Peter Blake and others is the first of its kind under the provisions contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to prevent jury nobbling. The only other judge-only trials for serious cases, known as Diplock trials, have been in Northern Ireland.

A series of special arrangements and procedures are in place because of he absence of a jury, some of which follow procedures developed in the Diplock courts:

– The trial of Peter Blake, John Twomey, Barry Hibberd and Glen Cameron is expected to be far shorter and is listed for three months, whereas the last trial that collapsed in connection with the Heathrow robbery had already run for six months and only reached the end of the prosecution case.

– The judge himself is both judge and jury: he resolves matters of law and has to do “mental gymnastics”, as one barrister put it, if he excludes evidence as inadmissable — trying to put it out of his mind and to pretend that he has never seen it.

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– In a jury trial, the jury is sent out when there are legal arguments and does not hear any evidence that has been excluded or even know that it has been excluded. Similarly, if there are applications for evidence not to be disclosed on public interest grounds, then the judge will make those rulings himself — even though defence lawyers will not know what the evidence is.

– The judge will have available before him all the witness statements when a witness gives evidence — juries have no access to witness statements.

– Although there will not be the huge costly security arrangements that would have been in place to protect a jury, the judge will have at least normal and probably enhanced security. A judicial spokesman declined to discuss security arrangments.

– The four defendants are cross-examined in the usual way but barristers have adapted their style to take account of the absence of a jury. They will be briefer and less painstaking, while remembering the need for transparency and open justice.

The application for a judge-only trial came after the collapse in 2008 of the case before Judge Roberts, QC. Because the decision incolved important issues of public policy, he referred it to a senior judge.

In March 2009 Mr Justice Calvert-Smith looked at two other options with varying levels of juror protecton: the more intensive would have cost about £6 million and required at least 82 police officers to be removed from their normal duties. The second would have cost £1.5 million and required at least 32 police officers.

He ruled that there was evidence of a “real and present danger” of jury tampering at the trial and that risk would remain throughout, but he concluded that a “package” of measures to provide jury protection would be sufficient to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. Even if such steps were taken, the likelihood of tampering was “so substantial,” the judges said, as to make it necessary for a trial without a jury in the interests of justice.

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