UK Considers Trying Criminal Case Without Jury

In what can only be described as a close shave for civil rights, an English Judge has rebuffed an attempt by the UK government to get him to exercise for the first time the statutory power to try a criminal case without a jury.

Details of the request are at Judge may sit alone in drugs case deemed too dangerous for a jury. England long ago dispensed with the civil jury for the large majority of cases (libel being one notorious exception) and the Brown government is apparently contemplating using the Parliament Act 1949 to force through a law allowing the most complex fraud cases to be tried without a jury.

The power to waive a jury in criminal cases is relatively new and so far never used. And, it appears, despite the prosecution's request, this time the UK has dodged the bullet:

A judge has rejected the first attempt in England and Wales to hold a big criminal trial without a jury. Prosecution lawyers applied for the case to be tried by a judge alone because of fears that jurors could intimidated or bribed. The judge ruled that steps could be put in place to ensure the jury was protected, and that he could still discharge the jury and hear the case if evidence of tampering emerged.

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3 Responses to UK Considers Trying Criminal Case Without Jury

  1. John Flood says:

    It’s not stopping. The British Home Secretary is in the US chatting with Chertoff at Homeland Security. On NPR this morning she spoke of “broad consensus” in the UK for the extension of police powers to hold suspects without charge for 42 days. There is no agreement on this as far as I’m aware. There have been no cases that have needed this extraordinary amount of time.

    The UK is definitely becoming more authoritarian. I wonder if it is a reaction to the introduction of the human rights legislation in 2000. It feels like the government’s saying we gave you freedom but you’ve abused it and we are now going to take it away from you again.

    The struggle continues……

  2. PHB says:

    Actually it is not new at all. Diplock courts were set up in the 70s to deal with the terrorist threat from the IRA, INLA and ‘loyalist’ paramilitaries.

    A diplock court sat as recently as 2004 to try an alleged AQ defendant. And another will sit this year to try Chris Ward on the Norther Rock case.

    The issue here is public safety. If criminals threaten the lives of jury members the jury system breaks down.

    The more important lesson for the US however was that the Diplock courts were introduced in the wake of the failure of internment and as part of the criminalization policy under which terrorists would not be recognized as political prisoners.

    The ‘unlawful combatant’ designation introduced in the US repeats the earlier UK mistake. The objective of the terrorists is to force the government to treat them as a political entity rather than a criminal one. Internment, tribunals, torture are bad tactics, the terrorist does not mind being treated worse than a common criminal, provided they are treated differently. Bobby Sands smeared his cell with excrement and starved himself to death in the cause of being treated differently.

  3. Here in the US, despite having a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to jury trials in “all” criminal cases, the courts have ruled that you can be denied a jury trial if the maximum penalty if convicted is under one year. *For each charge.*

    Meaning, 150 counts of whatever can be brought against you, the prosecutor can commit to not asking for more than 354 days on each charge, and then the judge can turn down your demand for a jury trial, convict you on all counts, and send you to prison for over a century. In spite of that “all”.

    So, for all our having a written constitution, we’re not that much better off than the English.

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