Recent legislation allowed for a single judge to sit without jury on certain trials under certain circumstances. Recently the verdicts were handed down in the first major criminal trial in 400 years to be conducted in this fashion by a judge sitting without a jury. The important word is major. Sections of the press best described as appealing to those who are impressed by the images rather than the news or editorials failed to make much mention if any that judge only trials have been conducted in this country for centuries and that defendants have no right to choose any other form.
Those charged with summary only offences can be judged and sentenced by a District Judge sitting alone in a Magistrates` Court. Defendants pleading not guilty to these same summary offences can also face a bench of usually three magistrates who will rule on facts and when appropriate determine the sentence. Appeals at Crown Court from sentence or verdict at Magistrates` Courts are heard at Crown Court in front of a judge sitting with two magistrates. The Supreme Court must have at least three judges sitting on an appeal. Tribunals of three or five judges are common in Europe.
The argument that an Englishman has had, since Magna Carta, a right to be tried by his peers is more fancy than fact. It has, however, opened up a deep divide within the legal profession and amongst those closely associated. Former Met Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, a regular contributor to The Times, wrote yesterday that, "It is time to wake up to reality and accept that sometimes one good judge and true is the answer". It does not seem to have been considered that in the certain circumstances to which I referred earlier three judges would constitute a highly learned bench and would I am sure be acceptable to the "jury is all" brigade who are currently so vociferous in their opposition.