HC Deb 06 November 2003 vol 412 cc750-1W
Bob Spink

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department(a) in what circumstances and (b) for which criminal offences a jury trial may be refused to a person charged with a criminal offence. [135019]

Paul Goggins

There are presently no circumstances in which a person charged with a criminal offence may be refused jury trial.

Certain offences are triable only on indictment, and must be heard by a judge and jury. Summary offences—which constitute the overwhelming majority of criminal cases—are triable only in the magistrates' courts unless they fulfil certain conditions (for example, because they are related to an indictable-only offence). Other offences are triable either way: by a judge and jury in the Crown Court on the direction of the magistrate or the election of the defendant, or summarily, with the consent of the defendant. There are no circumstances in which a person charged with an either-way offence can be tried summarily unless he or she has consented to summary trial. The Criminal Justice Bill currently before Parliament sets out new procedures for deciding the allocation of either-way cases, and for the sending to the Crown Court of those cases which need to go there, according to these principles.

The Government have proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill that the prosecution should be able to apply for a trial on indictment in the Crown Court to proceed in the absence of a jury where the length and/or complexity of the trial is likely either to be so burdensome upon the jury trying it as to make it necessary in the interests of justice to conduct the trial without a jury, or to place an excessive burden on the life of a typical juror. The length or complexity (or both) must be caused by the need to address arrangements, transactions or records of a financial or commercial nature or which relate to property. The Bill also provides for a trial on indictment in the Crown Court to be conducted without a jury where there is a real and present danger of jury tampering, or to be continued without a jury where the jury has been discharged because of jury tampering. None of these provisions is restricted to particular criminal offences.

The provisions were defeated at Lords Committee stage of the Bill. The Government have indicated their intention to reinstate them when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.