Ministers are considering limiting the availability of jury trials for small-time offenders. The proposed change comes after the 2011 summer riots, which saw many defendants handled speedily and cost-effectively by the justice system.
Moreover, crown court jury hearings carry significantly higher costs than magistrates’ proceedings. This is an attractive incentive for the Ministry of Justice to restrict the number of jury trials as it is trying to cut its costs. According to the Guardian, “Cases known as ‘either way offences’, where the accused can opt for trial in a magistrate’s court or in front of a jury at crown court, are most likely to be affected”.
However, the Ministry of Justice is yet to confirm such plans. “There are no plans to remove trial by jury. We are looking at ways of improving how courts respond quickly and efficiently to crime and disorder. No ministerial decisions have been made. However we are clear that trial by jury will stay.”
However, the Magistrates’ Association has confirmed that such plans are being pushed on ministers. “It’s being considered in the light of the riots. It’s something we have been concerned about for a while. Particularly for theft where someone might nick a bottle of wine and then elect to go for crown court trial. That costs a lot of money.”
Barristers practising at the criminal bar say that the Government is trying to cut costs at the expense of individuals’ right to justice. The Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Max Hill, QC, said, “So-called minor cases may not lead to prison, but can have a major impact upon the individual and prospects of employment, credit and general livelihood.
“Yet again, the Government seeks to cut corners on justice, this time by reducing the citizen’s right to trial by jury. We will all pay the price for this downward spiral towards a bargain- basement criminal justice system.”
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