The second post that I wrote on this site 21/11/2009 was entitled Is it time to say goodbye to either way offences? The powers that be obviously think not. Probably the most commonly committed of such offences is that of theft. As far as I am aware there are no figures to show how many charges of theft are heard before a judge and jury at crown court and what percentage of the total these represent. An argument often heard from lawyers why the status quo should remain ie theft should not be summary only, is eg for those of good character a conviction of theft however minor could have a devastating effect on their career and/or reputation. IMHO this is a spurious and unmerited argument. The underlying imputation is that a jury is more likely than a bench of J.P.s or a SINGLE DISTRICT JUDGE to acquit their client. Whether said client committed the crime or not is of course not a matter for consideration. If juries are seen to acquit in demonstrably doubtful situations and in contrast to the evidence presented, then one of two changes will eventually take place; a change in the particular law in question or pressure from government to satisfy a restless populous by demanding more judge only trials at crown court and dispensing with the jury altogether.
Criminal damage is an offence tried summarily only if the sum involved does not exceed £5,000. Above that figure or if the charge is racially or religiously aggravated the offence becomes either way. What logic prevents a similar cut off level for theft as a summary only offence? What form of trial would the 40 thieves have preferred?