Fraud cases may be tried without juries

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The Independent Online
A NEW judicial system to bring white-collar criminals to book is under consideration by the Government's law officers in the wake of the failed Maxwell brothers prosecution.

The Attorney-General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, said that ministers were "seriously examining" abolishing jury trial in favour of a judge sitting with a panel of experts.

In the Government's first public response to the acquittal of Kevin and Ian Maxwell and financial adviser Larry Trachtenberg, Sir Nicholas ruled out scrapping the Serious Fraud Office, which unsuccessfully brought the case to court. "If it didn't exist, I am sure we would have to invent it," he said.

While acknowledging that jury trials were a part of the nation's fundamental liberties, and that ending them in major fraud cases should not be done lightly, Sir Nicholas added: "We have to think very carefully before we change the system, but we are thinking very carefully."

One option under review would be for a judge to sit with a panel of experts, though this would impose a heavy burden on the judge, who would have to produce a lengthy written judgment open to scrutiny by the Court of Appeal.

It has also emerged that the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, and the Government's law officers have been privately putting the jury issue to senior legal figures for months.

Ministers have made little secret of the fact that the length, cost and complexity of trials such as the Guinness and Blue Arrow cases is pushing them into supporting the abolition of juries. But the Bar Council made clear yesterday that any move against juries would face sustained opposition from the country's barristers.

Senior lawyers favour improving the presentation of evidence to jurors and encouraging the use of new technology in courts.

A Bar Council spokesman said: "Jury trial is a cornerstone of our democracy. It is absolutely central that no one should go to jail without being tried by his peers. No one seems to be suggesting that the Maxwells' jury reached the wrong verdict."

The Attorney-General's comments were made as a tired but relieved-looking Kevin Maxwell posed for photographers with his pregnant wife, Pandora, outside their mansion by the Thames. He described his career as being "on hold". Britain's biggest bankrupt, owing pounds 406m, said: "There are still charges outstanding. Until the prosecution and the state decide, we won't know what the future holds."

Later, his brother-in-law, stockbroker Darryl Warnford-Davis, who was spending the weekend at the 14-bedroom mansion, said: "Kevin is a jack of all trades. He will rebuild things and start his life again. We have always been a close family. In the event, it all happened so fast and everyone's still in shock."

However, the Independent on Sunday has learnt that the Maxwell brothers will start work on building up a new business dynasty as soon as possible and could be behind their desks as early as tomorrow week.

Kevin and older brother Ian plan to carry on working closely together as business consultants for the Mayfair-based Westbourne Communications, a company owned by one of their late father's most loyal retainers. Jean Baddley worked for Robert Maxwell for a period spanning decades and rose from being a secretary to become one of his most trusted aides and director of several Maxwell companies.

Yesterday Ms Baddley said: "Yes, I am happy to confirm that both Ian and Kevin will be working for Westbourne Communications as soon as they are free of their obligations to the court.

"I'm extremely lucky to have them. I've known them both since they were children and never had a moment's doubt of their innocence. Neither of them would ever consider defrauding anyone, let alone pensioners."

Ms Baddley describes her company's role as supplying "strategic business consultancy" and confirms that most of her clients are based overseas. She added: "Both Kevin and Ian are extremely talented business people and they each have their own areas of excellence. They will both be working for me as consultants.

"Before the trial Kevin was doing a lot with the CIS and the former Soviet republics. Ian has tended to concentrate on America."

Ms Baddley dismissed a rumour that 39-year-old Ian Maxwell had plans to move to the US, where the family of his American-born wife, Laura, have extensive business interests.

But will the name Maxwell prove a handicap to the brothers' future careers?

"Obviously they are very well known and some might find that a problem, but that is their problem," Ms Baddley said. "I'm certain Kevin and Ian will only be interested in getting on with their lives."