Jubilee Line fraud: the end of the line for trial by jury?

“We had invited the judge to address case management issues from the outset. If this is going to be used to bash juries it would be a travesty, because there’s nothing wrong with the jury system,” says Brian Spiro, Burton Copeland partner and defence lawyer on the collapsed Jubilee Line fraud trial.

Yes, Spiro has an axe to grind, but the Government and much of the press has jumped on the Jubilee Line case as proof that jury trials don’t work in complex fraud cases.

In fact, one of the wilder conspiracy theories doing the rounds is that the case was handled so spectacularly badly that the only explanation is that it was a Government setup designed to discredit juries.

The trial finally collapsed last Tuesday evening (22 March), when the prosecution was faced with the prospect of continuing with just nine jurors.

In 1997, the British Transport Police (BTP) commercial fraud squad kicked off an investigation into massive corruption over the way contracts were awarded on the Jubilee Line extension.

The building work was rushed through to coincide with the opening of the Millennium Dome and, at £3.5m, it came in at double the budget. Seven people were arrested in 1997 and in 2000 they were charged.

The case came to court in June 2003, but by March last year two jurors had dropped out. By this year, two more were threatening to quit.

By March, the first defendant, Stephen Rayment, advised by Spiro and supported by the lawyers for the other defendants, made repeated requests to have the case dismissed.

Also, the fifth defendant, Mark Skinner, represented by partner Angus McBride of Kingsley Napley, had health problems, and his hypertension interrupted his testimony from last December onwards.

The news that the trial was collapsing was out of the bag some time ago, but laws on contempt prevented its publication. The Government, which tried and failed to abolish jury trials in complex fraud cases in 2003, was no doubt ready with its own briefings.

However, those close to the case say the fundamental flaws in the way the case was run have nothing to do with the inability of jurors to understand fraud.

Lawyers are highly critical of the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) case management. The defendants requested from the outset that the charges be better particularised. One complains that the prosecution was attempting to try three quite separate issues as one case and that no evidence had been heard on the allegations relating to contracts tendering for over a yearThe choice of Ann Goddard as judge in the case was unusual, say sources. She had little experience of fraud and was a Crown Court, rather than a High Court, judge.

But the key issue is that this case was handled by the BTP rather than the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The SFO does not always cover itself in glory, but at least is by definition set up to investigate fraud.

One source claimed that the BTP was the only organisation that took the original complaint seriously, although another person close to the case indicated that the SFO had been willing to take over the investigation. The BTP media spokesperson was not available at the time of going to press.

Another source queries: “Why wasn’t this deemed a contractual dispute and addressed on an administrative basis?”

The big losers so far in this case have been the UK taxpayers, who will have to stump up an estimated £60m in costs, and Paul Maw – advised by Irwin Mitchell – who was the one defendant to plead guilty.

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf last week handed down a practice direction bringing in new case management standards and limiting jury trials’ length.

Should that not be given a chance to work before jury trials become the final victim of the Jubilee Line fraud?

Prosecution

James Mulholland and Peter Roberts, CPS Central Casework, instructing Patrick Upward QC, 15 New Bridge Street Chambers.

Defendants

Stephen Rayment: Brian Spiro, Burton Copeland, instructing Nicholas Purnell QC, 23 Essex Street, and Alison Pople, 2 Bedford Row.

Woodward-Smith: Brian Spiro, BCL Burton Copeland, instructing Julian Bevan QC, Hollis Whiteman Chambers, and Mukul Chawla QC, 9-12 Bell Yard.

Paul Maw: Kevin O’Brien, Irwin Mitchell, instructing Peter Carter QC and Gareth Rees QC, 18 Red Lion Court.

Paul Fisher: Neil O’May, Bindmans, instructing Christopher Sallon QC and Paul Bogan, Doughty Street Chambers.

Mark Skinner: Angus McBride, Kingsley Napley, instructing Isabel Daykins, 6 King’s Bench Walk, and Saba Naqshbandi, 3 Raymond Buildings.

Anthony Wootten: David Janes, Janes Solicitors, instructing Geoffrey Cox QC, Thomas More Chambers, and Christopher Harding, Matrix Chambers.

Graham Scard: Darryl Ingram, Darryl Ingram & Co, instructing Anthony Berry QC and Georgia Reid, 9 Bedford Row.