Criminal trial to be heard without jury

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The Independent Online

Four men accused of taking part in armed robbery at Heathrow Airport five years ago will be tried without a jury in a case which will make legal history.

The judge-only Crown Court trial expected to be heard later this year will be the first case to take advantage of new powers brought in to stop jury tampering.

It follows three previously flawed attempts to bring the case to trial.

Today the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting in the Court of Appeal, ruled that the measures needed to combat the potential threats to the jurors in any future trial were so great that the case must be heard by a judge sitting alone.

The ruling has raised concerns about the erosion of the right to jury trial in England and Wales after a series of attempts by the Government to bring in judge-only trials for special offences and circumstances.

Lord Judge described trial by jury as a "hallowed principle" of British justice, but said the Criminal Justice Act 2003 did allow a trial to he heard by a judge alone in certain circumstances.

"Where it arises the judge assimilates all the functions of the jury with his own unchanged judicial responsibilities," he said.

"This function, although new in the context of trial on indictment, is well known in the ordinary operation of the criminal justice system and is exercised for example by district judges [magistrates' courts] in less serious, summary cases."

The new trial will be the first Crown Court case in England and Wales to be heard by a judge alone using powers under Sections 44 and 46 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which came into force in July 2007.

It allows for a trial without a jury when there is evidence of "a real and present danger that jury tampering would take place" and where additional measures to prevent it would not fully succeed.

The case concerns four men accused of an armed robbery at Heathrow Airport in 2004. The judge said jury "tampering" was a "very significant" danger.

Lord Judge told the court the cost of the measures needed to protect jurors from potential influence, such as the services of police officers, was too high and that such measures may not properly insulate them.

For example, they "did not sufficiently address the potential problem of interference with jurors through their families," Lord Judge said.

In addition, it would be "totally unfair" to impose such "additional burdens" on individual jurors, he continued.

The trial of the defendants, who cannot be identified, "will take place without a jury in due course", he added.

Lord Judge, sitting with Lord Justice Goldring and Mr Justice McCombe, explained the case concerned "very serious criminal activity".

It included possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery and conspiracy to rob, he said.

"The objective of the robbery was something in the region of £10m in sterling and mixed foreign currency," he told the court.

But, he went on, the actual proceeds amounted to £1.75m and remain largely unrecovered.