Goldsmith 'rigged talks on no-jury trial'

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Three senior judges, including Lord Philips, who has since been appointed Lord Chief Justice, had been invited to a meeting in Westminster with opposition politicians and civil justice groups where the judges each put the case for ending jury trial.

A lawyer present said the only issue was: What form should the alternative take? Another added: "It gave the impression the process was being rigged to favour the government position."

Opponents of the plan are angry that the two-hour meeting was supposed to represent the "wide consultation" the Government promised when the measure was saved from the Criminal Justice Bill 2003 in the House of Lords. The Attorney General did hold another meeting during the summer, which was attended by only one lord.

David Heath, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for constitutional affairs, said: "The Attorney General and the Government have pulled a fast one. We were absolutely amazed that the Government had gone ahead with the meeting without involving the frontbench speakers. This is not what we were promised by David Blunkett."

Bob Marshall-Andrews MP, a criminal law QC and Labour MP, said: "The judges were handpicked and were not criminal specialist judges. If this goes through, circuit judges are going to try these cases and they want to keep juries."

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General denied there had been an attempt to use judges in an improper way or that consultation had been rigged. "The Attorney wrote to people who showed interest in the proposal and asked for their views but very few took the opportunity to respond. The consultation was never about the principle of the ending of jury trial in complex fraud cases, but how the measures should be implemented."