Trial is finished over the Internet

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The Independent Online
A JUDGE made legal history yesterday when she concluded a major fraud trial from her hospital bed after breaking her leg. Judge Valerie Pearlman's use of the latest Internet technology saved taxpayers more than pounds 2.5m by avoiding the need for a retrial. Judge Pearlman, 62, resorted to the video link-up after she fractured her leg last March in a fall.

With a trial already under way at London's Southwark Crown Court, she had an operation to have a metal plate inserted to support the damaged bone. Six weeks later, the trial resumed with Judge Pearlman using walking sticks to get around the courtroom. All went well for three weeks until the plate snapped and X-rays showed the fracture had not healed.

The judge, her summing up of the case 75 per cent completed, was determined not to have to order a retrial from her ward at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. "I wondered if there was any way out of this hole and what could be done to save the trial," she said. "Then I came up with the idea of continuing from Bart's Great Hall."

With just an hour's notice, the jury was taken to St Bartholomew's and settled into the 30ft-high, oak-panelled hall.

Then, from an NHS wheelchair, the judge spent the next two days summing up.

Afterwards, the jury returned to Southwark to spend some 55 hours considering their verdict in the case, which had lasted six months.

Three people - Gian Lombardi, 50, his wife, Veronica, 28, from west London and Gianfranco Udovicich, 50, from central London - were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud between January 1994 and September 1996. A fourth defendant was acquitted.

Judge Pearlman has yet to deliver their sentences.