Two more suspects may face trial without jury

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The Independent Online

Two more suspected criminals may be put on trial without a jury, prosecutors confirmed today.

Applications have been made in two cases, the details of which cannot be disclosed, for crown court trials without jurors.



The move came just a month after four men were convicted of an armed robbery at Heathrow Airport by a judge sitting alone at the Old Bailey.



It was the first juryless trial for centuries and sparked fierce debate over the right of defendants to be tried by their peers.



A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokeswoman said: "I can confirm there are two cases going through the process."



Further details of the defendants, charges and courts involved cannot be disclosed because of a series of gagging orders.



News of the applications provoked criticism from members of the criminal bar who oppose the changes.



Felicity Gerry, who specialises in cases of sexual and violent offences, said she feared bids to hold juryless trials could become routine.



The barrister called the changes a "catastrophic undermining of the trial system".



Ms Gerry said: "These two further applications concern me because they suggest these may be made more routinely when the legislation says it must be exceptional.



"It is not just the letter of the law, it is the public opinion that is important and is what a jury brings to the courtroom.



"They bring the real world and are not jaded lawyers who may well have a particular view of society.



"There is real concern among the criminal bar that cases could be tried by anyone other than a jury.



"Trials have been problematic for centuries with difficulties with witnesses and nobbling juries and we have dealt with that for centuries.



"There is nothing new which means we should be dealing with it by any other way."



Ms Gerry added that it was a "burden" for an individual judge to try a case without being able to discuss it with anyone else.



Career criminal John Twomey, 62, was jailed for more than 20 years at the Old Bailey in March.



The twice-married father of five led a £1.75 million raid on a Heathrow warehouse in February 2004.



It took four trials to bring Twomey and three other robbers to justice, leaving the public to pick up an estimated bill of £25 million.



The third trial was stopped amid allegations of jury tampering and, under new laws, the Court of Appeal ordered a judge to hear the case alone.



It was the first serious criminal trial without a jury in England and Wales and was described by the Crown Prosecution Service as a "benchmark" case.



Since 1641, every person charged with a serious indictable offence in England and Wales was tried in front of a jury.



But that right was amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, allowing a "judge only" trial if there was a "real and present danger" of jury tampering.