Ministers plan curbs on jury trial

THE GOVERNMENT is likely to end a defendant's automatic right to a jury trial for less serious offences and to force him or her to disclose in advance the essence of the defence case, writes Heather Mills. Ministers are considering proposals that the prosecution and defence should in some cases agree a venue for trial - either before magistrates or a Crown Court jury - and that if they fail to agree, the decision will be made by magistrates.

Alternatively, they are considering whether some categories of offence should only be tried by magistrates.

In its interim response to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, the Government also said it sees 'considerable attractions' in some form of pre- trial defence disclosure.

Both moves - following the abolition of the right to silence - are likely to be opposed by defence lawyers, who say recent legislation has tipped the balance too far in favour of the prosecution. The report yesterday indicated that the setting up of an independent body to investigate miscarriages of justice, recommended by the commission, remains a long way off.