I’m concerned about the proposal discussed in Owen Bowcott’s article (Non-jury trials could help clear coronavirus backlog, says QC, 26 April). The clogging up of the system must not be addressed by the offer of judge-only trials. In the UK, judge-only trials are reserved for a tiny residue of exceptional cases where there is risk of jury tampering.
Our prisons face a coronavirus crisis and some 9,000 remand prisoners are facing delays. Whatever the accusation, we must resist offering these vulnerable people a judge-only trial. Many could be tempted out of desperation to embroil themselves in proceedings usually reserved for the most manipulative defendants in the land. Rather than raise the inducement of judge-only trial, parliament must find ways to recommence jury trials.
Lawyers cherish a criminal justice process steeped in trial by random selection of peers. If judge-only trial was thought comparable to trial by jury, it would long ago have gained equal status. It has not. The presumption of innocence is an indispensable feature of our society. Jury trial is the lifeblood. It must not become another victim of this crisis.
Jeremy Dein QC