Armed Robbery Trial to Be First to Go Ahead without a Jury; Judge-Only Hearing Is Approved in Historic Ruling by Court of Appeal

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Byline: Cathy Gordon ; John- Paul Ford Rojas

A SERIOUS criminal trial is to go ahead for the first time without a jury in England and Wales following a historic ruling by the Court of Appeal yesterday.

The green light for a judge-only trial was given because of a "very significant" danger of jury tampering in a case involving a pounds 1.75m armed robbery at a Heathrow Airport warehouse in February 2004.

There have already been three Old Bailey trials in the case which has been beset by problems and is already thought to have cost taxpayers pounds 24m.

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, sitting with two other judges in London, allowed a prosecution appeal to have a fourth trial without a jury, announcing "the danger of jury tampering and the subversion of the process of trial by jury is very significant".

The landmark decision by Lord Judge, Lord Justice Goldring and Mr Justice McCombe, means the new trial will be the first ever crown court case in England and Wales to be heard by a judge alone, using powers under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

After the judgement, a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: "This case shows that defendants who abuse their right to jury trial by embarking on jury tampering will not succeed in defeating justice.

"Rather than the case not proceeding at all this decision enables these defendants, who we allege are involved in serious criminal activity, to be tried and brought to justice despite their actions to tamper with the jury." But Isabella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, said: "This is a dangerous precedent.

"The right to jury trial isn't just a hallowed principle but a practice that ensures that one class of people don't sit in judgement over another and the public have confidence in an open and representative justice system.

"What signal do we send to witnesses if the police can't even protect juries?" In a written judgement, handed down in open court, Lord Judge said: "The case concerns very serious criminal activity, including possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery and conspiracy to rob. …