`No decision' on end to jury trial

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The Independent Online
The Home Office last night described as "pure speculation" newspaper reports that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, was considering ending the right to trial by jury for certain categories of defendant.

According to The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Mr Howard will announce this week that burglars, thieves and some sex offenders will lose their right to elect to be tried in a Crown Court. Magistrates will hear their cases, resulting in up to 35,000 people a year being taken out of the higher court. The Telegraph says the proposals are based on recommendations made by the 1993 Royal Commission on Justice, chaired by Lord Runciman of Doxford. Their implementation was abandoned after judges and civil rights campaigners voiced serious concerns.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "These reports are pure speculation. There has been a review of delays in the judicial system and a report [by the former prison governor Martin Narey] will be published in due course. But no decisions on the future of the system have been taken."

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