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UK court begins first non-jury criminal trial

[JURIST] A UK court on Tuesday began the first non-jury criminal trial in England or Wales in more than 400 years. Defendants John Twomey, Peter Blake, Barry Hibberd, and Glen Cameron appeared at the Royal Courts of Justice, accused of armed robbery of £1.75m from the Menzies World Cargo Warehouse at Heathrow Airport in 2004. The decision [JURIST report] to conduct the trial without a jury was made in June by Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge. The ruling was the first application of a Criminal Justice Act 2003 [text] provision, which allows a court to hold a judge-only trial if there is "evidence of a real and present danger" that jury tampering may take place and it is determined that other measures to prevent tampering would be ineffective. Explaining his decision, Judge cited concerns about the expense of maintaining security for jurors and noted there have already been three aborted attempts to conduct this trial.

Some civil liberties groups have expressed concern [BBC report] that conducting a trial without a jury undermines a fundamental principle of justice. Analysts question if one judge can be as objective as 12 jurors, and also wonder if this move casts doubt on the court system's ability to provide security for jurors in general. The law allowing for judge-only trials in both cases of jury tampering and fraud was passed [Guardian backgrounder] in 2003 and came into effect in 2007. It had earlier been rejected [JURIST report] by the House of Lords before undergoing revisions.

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