Recently, many civil libertarians have been alarmed by legal changes in England restricting the media, free speech, prosecuting insults against religion, and other rollbacks. Now, the Lord Chief Justice has ruled that criminal trials no longer require a jury for the first time in England and Wales.
In the United States, the right to a jury does not apply to minor cases, generally crimes punished by less than a year in jail.
The English case however involved an armed robbery at Heathrow Airport in 2004. The trial judge decided that there was a risk of jury tampering and the appellate court agreed that the cost of protecting jurors from influence was prohibitive and could not protect the jurors from influence from family members.
It is a very disturbing rationale that would allow the denial of a jury in a great array of cases. Obviously, there is no complete protection against influence by family members short of sequestration.
Lord Judge, sitting with Lord Justice Goldring and Mr. Justice McCombe said that the case concerned “very serious criminal activity” and had been tried three times. The panel relied on the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to allow a bench trial “[w]here . . . judge assimilates all the functions of the jury with his own unchanged judicial responsibilities.”
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