Shropshire Star

Judge can continue fraud trial without jury, Court of Appeal rules

Jurors were discharged in a trial involving nine defendants charged with multiple fraud and money laundering offences.

The Royal Courts of Justice

A £700,000 fraud trial can continue without jurors after reports of jury tampering, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Jurors were sent home 10 weeks into the trial at Birmingham Crown Court, where nine defendants stand accused of fraud and money laundering offences, in November.

The trial judge decided to discharge the jury after reports of tampering, which had allegedly taken place two weeks earlier, before ruling he could decide the verdicts in the trial alone.

Barristers for four of the accused – Shahid Mohammad, Zahid Habib, Usman Sharif and Adnan Sharif – took the case to the Court of Appeal, claiming the decision to continue without a jury would prejudice their right to a fair trial.

But in a hearing in London on Wednesday, three appeal judges rejected their bid, saying it is “never too late” for a judge to take over a trial if the “integrity of the jury” is compromised.

The Lady Chief Justice, Lady Carr, said: “We have no concerns about the judge’s careful assessment that he could provide the appellants with a fair trial.

“The reasons he gave for continuation are indeed compelling.

“We dismiss the appeals. We confirm the order that the trial will continue before the judge and without a jury.”

Lady Carr, sitting with Lord Justice Edis and Mr Justice Griffiths, agreed with the trial judge’s reasoning for continuing the trial alone.

This included that the judge, like the jury, has heard all the evidence in the case and a retrial would likely not take place until 2025.

She said the delay would cause a “huge inconvenience” and there is a “need to discourage” jury tampering, agreeing there is a public interest in continuing with the trial.

The nine defendants are accused of cheating HMRC out of £700,000 between 2012 and 2016 by using various car finance companies as fronts.

Their trial began on September 4 last year, with the jury beginning their deliberations on November 13.

But two weeks earlier, one juror was allegedly approached and offered a lift by someone outside court who suggested the defendants are their friends.

The next day, the same juror was allegedly approached by a different person who suggested one defendant was their cousin and they were concerned about them “going down”.

The juror did not tell anyone about the alleged incidents until deliberations had begun, with the jury discharged on November 17.

The defendants' trial will continue at Birmingham Crown Court without a jury following the ruling (Rui Vieira/PA)
The defendants’ trial will continue at Birmingham Crown Court without a jury (PA)

Legally, a judge can continue a trial without a jury if there is evidence that tampering has taken or will take place, provided it is still fair to the defendants.

The Court of Appeal was told four other defendants were happy for the trial to continue without a jury, while the final defendant was neutral.

But barristers for the four defendants who wanted a trial by jury said that while the judge was right to discharge the jury, it was “plainly not in the interest of justice” for him to continue alone.

Paul Williams, representing Mr Habib, said: “He feels a deep sense of injustice that his right to a jury trial has been taken away from him, as he sees it, through no fault of his own.

“It was not his fault the jury had to be discharged.”

But in her ruling, Lady Carr said: “The judge was well-placed to assess his ability to try the issues fairly.

“We see no reason not to accept his assessment.

“The judge would be deciding exactly the same issues on exactly the same evidence as the jury.”

The trial is now set to continue at a later date.

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