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First trial to be heard without jury approved

Four men accused of an armed robbery at Heathrow 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.

Yesterday 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.

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.