Fraud jurors 'need 'O' level'

DAVID HELLIER

John Wood, the first director of the Serious Fraud Office, has called for jurors in serious fraud trials to have at least an 'O' level in English and maths and preferably also an 'A' level in maths. He also believes a jury in a fraud case ought to consist of about six or seven members rather than the current 12.

Mr Wood reveals his thoughts on the composition of juries and other matters later this week when he speaks at a seminar on the London markets organised by the law firm, Denton Hall.

Speaking in the wake of the Maxwell acquittals, Mr Wood says he thinks the system for prosecuting corporate fraud in this country "needs reform." He argues that there is no alternative to prosecuting cases in the criminal courts, but believes that the authorities should be more selective about the cases they take on and thinks there are cases which currently go to court that ought to be dealt with by way of a semi-criminal route.

He believes that there should be one regulatory body, similar to America's Securities and Exchange Commission, which is capable of drawing all the regulators under its wing.

Until that time, however, he says he hopes the Government "will pay considerable attention to improving the manner in which criminal trials take place to assist the public by reducing the number of jurors in fraud cases and make their task a great deal more tolerable."

He adds: "I am sure that if the intellectual ability of the jury is improved it will mean that these cases will take far less time to try and that in itself should be a great advance on the present situation."

Mr Wood strongly disagrees with the view that juries are not capable of trying serious fraud cases, though. "No one doubts the stress and strain upon jurors but, equally, no one can doubt that the Maxwell jury must have approached its task in an entirely responsible manner."

Mr Wood says he does not believe the averse comment about the SFO from the media and some MPs accurately reflects its reputation.

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