Letter: Trial by jury 'only aspect of system that promotes trust in criminal justice'

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Sir: During my 23-plus years on the bench, I have seen virtually every proposal for improving the criminal (and family) justice system in the lower courts resisted, ironically in the main by those avowedly in defence of civil liberties. Now that it is proposed to remove from defendants the automatic right to elect jury trial in either-way offences, they are off again. May I make a few points?

First, in the wake of the Royal Commission's report it can no longer be open to question that in a proportion of cases the right to a trial by jury is being seriously abused.

Second, for many years magistrates have been deciding whether or not to accept jurisdiction to try such cases, and I have never seen any suggestion that benches have been wrongly refusing to decline jurisdiction over cases that they think would be more appropriately heard before a judge and jury.

Third, if the Royal Commission proposal comes to pass, might not a fully adequate safeguard be simply to provide power of review of any magistrates' court decision refusing to commit for jury trial? After all, bail refusals are already subject to such review by a judge in chambers, and an analogous procedure seems an appropriate compromise between the interest of the defendant in having an unfettered right to trial by jury, and that of society in ensuring that the jury system is not abused.

Yours faithfully


London, N14

9 July