Archive for January 14th, 2010

The Big Question: Do juryless trials risk obscuring the transparency of justice?


Why are we asking this now?

This week Britain’s first crown court criminal trial to take place without a jury in more than 400 years started at the Royal Courts of Justice. The case, involving four men accused of a £1.75m armed robbery, is being heard by a judge, sitting alone, who will decide upon the men’s guilt or otherwise…….


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Judge says extraditing Gary McKinnon may be unlawful

Guardian: The home secretary may have acted unlawfully by pursuing the extradition of the computer hacker Gary McKinnon, a high court judge said yesterday.

Extraditing McKinnon, an Asperger’s sufferer who is facing a lengthy prison sentence in the US for breaching US military and Nasa computers, raises “stark and simple issues”, Mr Justice Mitting said.

In a letter, the judge described medical evidence that McKinnon would be at high risk of suicide in an American jail as “as yet unchallenged and unqualified”.

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RBS fights allegation of role in Enron fraud

Times: Royal Bank of Scotland defrauded an Austrian bank by encouraging it to invest in a £140 million sham financial vehicle created for Enron, the collapsed energy giant, a court was told yesterday.

Raiffeisen Zentralbank (RZB) put £10 million into the vehicle, which was linked to Enron’s Teesside power plant and designed to allow the energy group to book future profits from the plant in its accounts before they had been earned. The vehicle, called ESOL and created in 2000, was arranged by the RBS department where the NatWest Three bankers had worked. The three, who served jail sentences in America and Britain after being convicted of Enron-related fraud, were not involved in the deal……

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David Edmonds: is he cracking the whip or leading the way?

Times: Stacked on David Edmonds’ desk is a pyramid of 18 varieties of baked beans. “It’s a private joke,” he insists — declining to be photographed with them. “It shows the huge variety you can have, and quality at the same time.”

The joke is a reference to the Big Bang in legal services — opening up the market to different ways of meeting consumers’ legal needs. Edmonds, as chairman of the Legal Services Board, is the arch-regulator under the reforms of the Legal Services Act 2007 and is given the task of policing the landscape that is taking shape.

The reforms have been dubbed Tesco Law, although Co-op Law would be more accurate as the latter has been taking the lead in preparing legal services for its customers. Either way, the supermarket label has stuck: Bridget Prentice, a government minister, once said that consumers should be able to access legal services “as easily as they buy a tin of beans”.

The comment did not go down that well with lawyers — so Edmonds is careful not to stretch the analogy. But he agrees that what people want is “greater variety and greater choice”. And, he adds, transparency — to know the price that they are going to pay, and for what. “They want to see what’s on the tin and know what its contents are.”

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Dutch PM clings on as inquiry finds invasion had no mandate

Times: The Dutch Prime Minister insisted yesterday that he acted honourably in supporting the Iraq war despite the verdict of an independent inquiry that the invasion had no mandate under international law.

In a devastating rejection of the position of the Dutch Government, the inquiry, led by the former head of the Netherlands Supreme Court, decided that the UN resolutions did not provide a legal basis for the use of force.

Like the US and British governments, Jan Peter Balkenende relied on UN Resolution 1441 of November 2002 as the legal basis for supporting the Iraq war. This resolution threatened serious consequences if Saddam Hussein did not fully comply with his obligations to disarm.

However, the Davids commission in the Netherlands concluded in its 551-page report: “Despite the existence of certain ambiguities, the wording of Resolution 1441 cannot reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions without authorisation from the Security Council.”……

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First criminal trial with no jury for 400 years starts

Times: The first significant criminal trial without a jury for 400 years in England and Wales opened yesterday with one of the barristers declaring: “We are breaking history.”

John Twomey, Peter Blake, Barry Hibberd and Glen Cameron are accused of taking part in a £1.75million hold-up at a Heathrow warehouse in February 2004.

The Court of Appeal ruled last year that the case should be heard by a judge alone because of the danger of jury tampering.

What will be the fourth trial of the case — after three previous trials collapsed at a cost of £22million — opened in the Royal Courts of Justice, rather than a criminal court.

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European court rules stop and search illegal

Times: A key plank of the Government’s anti-terror laws was in tatters last night after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that police stop and search powers were unlawful.

The surprise ruling stunned the Home Office, which swiftly announced that the Government would seek to appeal against the unanimous ruling by seven judges.

Despite the judgment, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said that police would continue to use the powers, which allow them to stop and search people without having to suspect them of involvement in terrorism.

The ruling is a further blow to counter-terrorism law, after the controversial control order regime — under which suspects can be held in a form of house arrest — was weakened by a series of court rulings.

The Strasbourg court ruled yesterday that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 violated individual freedoms guaranteeing the right to private life. The court criticised the arbitrary nature of the power and also the way in which its use was authorised.

Under Section 44, the Home Secretary can authorise police to make random stop and searches in a designated area for up to 28 days, after which the power is renewable……

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