of trials without jury
BY JONATHAN SILBERMAN
LONDON—Four men have been convicted of robbery here by a judge without a jury. They received prison sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years. The trial, which ended March 31, follows legislation enacted by the Labour government in 2003 that came into force in 2007, providing for the first nonjury crown court criminal trials in England and Wales for 350 years.
As with many such attacks on democratic rights, the trail was blazed by successive London governments conducting their war against Irish national independence. Nonjury “Diplock courts” were introduced in Northern Ireland in 1972, named after the then Law Lord, Kenneth Diplock.
The defendants in the case were tried three times previously but never convicted. Their third trial collapsed amid charges of jury tampering. In justifying the use of the nonjury trial, an appeals court judge cited the danger of jury tampering and costs. “[Y]ou have to choose between hospitals and schools and armour for our troops in Afghanistan, and all the other demands on public money,” he said.
Nonjury trials are the latest in a series of measures that limit democratic rights. Many of the restrictions have been carried out under the banner of the “war against terrorism,” such as a succession of Terrorism Acts. Once on the statute book, they can be used as and when the state considers it useful. Antiterrorist laws were used to freeze the assets of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki after it collapsed in 2008.
Trade unionists have faced an increasing number of legal challenges to strike action. The antiunion laws were enacted by the Conservative government and have been kept intact by the Anthony Blair and Gordon Brown Labour governments.