Maxwell battles to stop new judge

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The Independent Online
Lawyers for Kevin Maxwell are challenging the appointment of a new judge to try him later this year on further charges resulting from the collapse of his father's business empire.

Alun Jones, QC said yesterday that they had applied for a judicial review, arguing it was "unlawful and irrational" for the Lord Chancellor not to let the original trial judge, Lord Justice Phillips, continue with the case.

Kevin Maxwell appeared at the High Courts before the new trial judge, Mr Justice Buckley, for what was to have been a formal preparatory hearing. But because of the pending review, it became merely a short administrative meeting.

Mr Justice Buckley said he lent his support to getting the review application heard as soon as possible, so it would not interfere with the trial's timetable. "Whatever the outcome I hope it will not engender delay to the proceedings as a whole," he said.

Estimates on the next trial's length range from anything between 18 weeks and 18 months, with a possible start date of October. Kevin, a former Maxwell financial adviser Larry Trachtenberg and a former company treasurer Albert Fuller face charges of conspiracy to defraud.

The charges relate to shares in Berlitz held by the Maxwell business empire, which it is alleged were pledged to a number of different banks as collateral for loans. As a result the banks lost more than pounds 100m, it is alleged.

The former Mirror Group finance director, Michael Stoney, also faces trial on two charges of false accounting. All charges against Kevin's elder brother, Ian, were dropped by the SFO following the first trial.

It is understood there are worries that Mr Justice Buckley might not have sufficient time to read in on the intricacies of the allegations which have occupied top lawyers for over four years, generating millions of pages of documents.

The judge is no stranger to complex cases involving allegations of corporate crime. He presided in the 1992 trial of executives accused of corruption arising from an investigation into British Rail engineering contracts.

At the end of the prosecution case he ordered the jury to return not guilty verdicts after ruling that the relationship between British Rail's engineering division and a contractor had not been corrupt.

Lord Justice Phillips had been involved with allegations involving Robert Maxwell's empire since 1993 and has impressed legal teams for both the prosecution and defence with his mastery of the issues. Despite a lobby for him to see the saga to its close, Lord Justice Phillips is understood to have been keen to return to the High Court, where he is a Lord of Appeal.

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