CBA proposes elite core of fraud counsel

Only barristers with special certificates guaranteeing their experience should be allowed to appear in serious fraud trials, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has proposed.

The CBA makes its controversial suggestion in response to last February's Home Office consultation paper on the abolition of juries in serious fraud trials.

The CBA paper, drawn up by a working party headed by the group's chairman, David Calvert-Smith QC, strongly defends the jury system and says there is no proof that juries cannot understand evidence in fraud trials.

It argues that defendants have a “constitutional right” to be tried by their peers and proposes measures to cut down on the length and cost of serious fraud trials, including a certification scheme for counsel.

“It is rare for inexperienced counsel to appear in long and complex cases but a “fraud certificate' would guarantee that standards are kept high,” says the CBA's paper.

The paper also calls for judges to be given sufficient time to prepare for large fraud trials and says High Court judges who specialise in fraud should be put in charge of such cases.

“We stress that in our view a judge cannot be expected to control a trial unless he has been given time to understand the case before it starts,” says the paper.

Calvert-Smith was unavailable for comment, but a CBA source suggested that the association would be willing to establish its own certification scheme for barristers.

Fraud specialist Jonathan Goldberg QC, head of chambers at 3 Temple Gardens, welcomed the proposal. “I think it's a rather good idea – it would certainly sort out the wheat from the chaff, and fraud is a very specialist area.”