Straw's Battle to Axe Juries in Fraud Trials
Byline: SONIA PURNELL
PLANS to abolish juries in complex fraud trials such as the Maxwell case will be unveiled by the Government on Monday.
Home Secretary Jack Straw wants urgent reform after a series of high-profile cases in which businessmen accused of fraud have been acquitted after lengthy hearings.
He will put forward four options to combat mounting concern that defence barristers in some cases are deliberately wearing down amateur jurors with ever more complex financial evidence and points of law.
New laws, likely to be backed by the Conservatives but vehemently opposed by the legal profession and civil liberties groups, could be in place as early as next year.
The Home Office is known to favour appointing panels of up to three specialist judges versed in high finance and its technicalities or installing a single judge assisted by two specialist financial assessors.
'We think either of these ideas could work very well in practice, and a great deal of work and thought has gone into them and how they could work,' said a senior Home Office source. Alternative proposals, also to be released in a consultation paper, will centre on new 'super-juries', composed of handpicked experts, or jurors with certain minimum qualifications.
Selecting suitable candidates willing to sit would be likely to be difficult, however, making this option less popular in the Government. The final option proposed by ministers is to continue to appoint ordinary juries but to release them from sitting through the more tortuous financial arguments.
It is feared that this 'in and out' approach could, however, impair their ability to come to a verdict at the end of the trial if the jury have not been present all the way through. …