Court allows first juryless criminal trial
Lord chief justice says there would be a 'very significant' danger of jury tampering in Heathrow robbery case

The Guardian | June 18, 2009

The court of appeal today ruled that a criminal trial can be heard without a jury for the first time.

Three judges in London, headed by the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, gave the go-ahead because of a "very significant" danger of jury tampering. Lord Judge said the case concerned "very serious criminal activity" arising from a robbery at a warehouse at Heathrow airport in 2004.

Reporting restrictions ban the identification of four defendants. Their trial will take place "in due course".

Today's decision by Lord Judge, sitting with Lord Justice Goldring and Mr Justice McCombe, means the new trial will be the first crown court case in England and Wales to be heard by a judge alone since new legislation came into force in 2003.

In his written judgment, 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."

During a "carefully planned and professionally executed armed robbery", a firearm was fired at a supervisor. "The objective of the robbery was something in the region of £10m in sterling and mixed foreign currency. As a result of a misreading of a flight manifest, the proceeds amounted to £1.75m, which are largely unrecovered."

Lord Judge went on: "In this country, trial by jury is a hallowed principle of the administration of criminal justice. It is properly identified as a right, available to be exercised by a defendant unless and until the right is amended or circumscribed by express legislation."