Letter: The libel lottery

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The Independent Culture
Sir: You imply that libel trials should be treated as a form of entertainment, particularly in the light of the "last great libel trial of the millennium" ("Trial by soundbite: so why not go all the way and let the cameras in?", 22 December). There is, however, one very serious concomitant of this; the need to reconsider the use of juries in such cases.

In common, I suspect, with most citizens, I accept my duty to participate in ensuring justice for my peers. However, I do not accept that this duty should require me to become part of the chorus at an entertainment provided for the public at the behest of the rich, the corrupt and the egotistical. This is a perversion of the judicial process.

I wonder what the cost was, both financial and personal, to the 12 citizens who had to sit through the Hamilton case while other, luckier souls were going about their normal business or making preparations for Christmas.

For some, such as the self-employed and the parents of young children, jury duty can be an enormously expensive obligation.

If the Government cannot bring itself to change libel laws which have had the effect of creating an international market in litigation, centred on London, it should act to relieve jurors of their role in this market.

Alternatively, it should legislate to require the court, in such cases, to make an assessment of the full economic cost to each juror and reimburse them accordingly, with costs being recovered from the losing party. This, even if it did not deter them from proceeding, would at least ensure that the protagonists had to reckon with the real costs of their recourse to law.

ALAN MURRAY

Dorking, Surrey

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