Maxwell attempt to select judge fails

Kevin Maxwell has lost his High Court attempt to select the judge for his second trial.

Mr Maxwell asked for a judicial review, claiming that Lord Justice Phillips, who presided over the trial when he and his brother Ian were cleared of involvement in the Mirror Group pension fund fraud, should hear the next trial.

But the High Court ruled yesterday that the Lord Chancellor had "correctly" chosen a second judge for next year's Old Bailey hearing following Lord Justice Phillips promotion to the Court of Appeal.

The second trial is likely to start in October 1997, according to legal sources, and is also likely to last longer than the first, which finished earlier this year after going on for eight months.

In their judgment yesterday Lord Justice Henry and Mr Justice Sachs commented that the bid by Kevin Maxwell had caused some "surprise" in judicial circles.

Mr Maxwell, who was not legally aided for the High Court hearing, still faces three charges of conspiracy to defraud.

The Law Lords conceded Lord Justice Phillips was "uniquely well placed" to act as the trial judge because of his prior knowledge of the complex fraud case. But they concluded the Lord Chancellor was within his rights to consider the "severe backlog" of work in the Court of Appeal where all judges were needed.

Lord Justice Henry said: "The Lord Chancellor approached the matter correctly, informed himself properly, consulted appropriately and reached a decision within the discretion accorded to him."

He added: "It seems to have come as some surprise to the profession that an administrative discretion relating to the deployment of judicial manpower could be the subject of such a challenge."

During the hearing Mr Alun Jones QC, representing Kevin, argued that technically the case against his client is ongoing and should therefore be heard by the same judge.

Mr Jones said: "It is our submission the appointment of a new judge is likely to cause additional delay and public expense in a notorious case that has already been protracted, arduous and expensive.

"It has caused enormous controversy over legal aid and prompted huge public concern about jury trials."