Letter: Trial by one's peers

Sir: It is not necessary to abolish the right to trial by jury, in any case in which it now exists, in order to achieve the cost savings and other benefits which the Government's proposals are designed to achieve. At present, any person convicted of an offence in the magistrates' court has a right to appeal to the Crown Court. The appeal is heard by a judge sitting with lay magistrates.

A minor amendment to the existing rules would give any person appealing against a conviction by a magistrates court, on a charge for which he has been refused trial by jury under the proposed new legislation, the right to have the appeal tried by a jury.

This would remove the objection to the Government's proposals, namely the withdrawal of the right to elect trial by jury in a whole range of cases in which a conviction would affect the defendant's reputation and might involve loss of liberty. At the same time, it would preserve the main benefit of the proposal, since the reported large majority of defendants who presently elect trial by jury merely to postpone the evil moment or for other tactical reasons, while intending all along to plead guilty at the Crown Court, would be dealt with in the magistrates' court.

Trial by jury would be reserved to those who - even after conviction in the magistrates' court - genuinely wish to contest their case in that way.

NICHOLAS STRAUSS QC

London EC4

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