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Goldsmith defends jury-free fraud trials move - analysis
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DescriptionGoldsmith defends jury-free fraud trials move - analysis
Plans to abolish juries in complex fraud trials do not amount to a general attack on jury trial, the Attorney General insisted today.
Lord Goldsmith QC unveiled plans to enact a change in the law which was passed by Parliament more than 18 months ago.
It will allow a single judge to sit on complex fraud trials, forsaking the 800-year-old tradition that defendants are tried by a panel of 12 jurors.
The Government will move to introduce the law change in the autumn by seeking a vote in both the Commons and the Lords.
"This provision is not part of a general assault on jury trial," said Lord Goldsmith.
"The Government is strongly in favour of trial by jury in the vast majority of cases, where it will remain absolutely appropriate."
Civil liberties campaigners argued that removing juries from fraud trials was the thin end of the wedge which would lead to more types of crime being tried without jurors.
But Lord Goldsmith said: "If this were the thin end of the wedge it's the thinnest end of the wedge there can conceivably be."
The move was likely to involve between 15 and 20 cases a year, he added.
He said there was currently a "double standard" where convictions are gained in simple, petty frauds but more complex cases either have to be abandoned or never get before a court.
"We can't have a situation of easy-to-prosecute blue-collar crime and unprosecutable white-collar crime," he said.
"It is important that people running fraud at a much higher level should be brought to justice as well."
The former Law Lord Lord Ackner said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I think there should be a presumption against trial by judge alone if the case can be dealt with within three months.
"The presumption still remains strong that trial by jury is fairer to the defendant than trial by judge alone."
Lord Goldsmith said it was currently too expensive, too difficult and too lengthy to bring some complex fraud cases.
"The Government believes that the answer is trial without a jury," he said.
Today's proposal would shorten trials, reduce costs and allow the full charges to be put before a court, rather than forcing prosecutors to water down allegations to make them manageable for jurors.
One recent high-profile case which may have been affected by the changes was the Jubilee Line extension fraud case, which collapsed in March after two years at a cost to the taxpayer of £60 million.
The Attorney General also produced a list of five other cases, one of which cost nearly £2 million, which may have been considered for no-jury trial if the measures had been available.
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