Tales of the City: Verdict? Our views don't count

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The Independent Online

It's only a footnote, but it's a very significant one.

It's only a footnote, but it's a very significant one. You may have read the reports about the Lord Chancellor and the Deputy Chief Justice (the amusingly named Lord Justice Judge) suggesting that TV cameras should be allowed into courts of law for the first time since they were banned in 1925. (But were there any TV cameras around in 1925? Or were they just ordinary cameras, complete with tripods and handheld flash-guns and bow-tied cameramen and those black curtains they draped over their heads?)

Anyway, the Lord Chancellor announced that he would conduct an exciting new experiment: six weeks of televising legal hearings in the Court of Appeal in London; four weeks in the criminal section, two in the civil section. The resulting footage would be edited as for a TV broadcast - and the dummy broadcast would be played before an august body of lawyers who, if they liked what they saw, would recommend that the statute be changed.

The newspapers ran leaders offering violently different opinions. The Times thought "that justice may be best served by shining a light on to its hitherto hidden processes". The Daily Mail got John Mortimer to rail against "the dangerous process of letting the courts of law become part of the entertainment system".

Across the nation, the pros and cons of capturing legal duels and homicidal confessions on camera were discussed at thunderous volume. So many opinions to be laid before the judicial grandees who'll decide whether the dummy broadcasts can become real broadcasts - assuming they can get the legislation through parliament.

So, a crucial change in the law of this country will be decided by, serially, government ministers, judges, broadcasters and peers, with a little help from newspaper columnists. The only people who will not be consulted are the people for whom the laws are supposedly made - the general public.

But what's this? In a footnote, I see that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, is asking the public to take part in an "interactive forum" about the legal-TV question. He actually wants to hear your opinion, which you can express on the website for the Department for Constitutional Affairs (www.dca.gov.uk).

Holy cow. Can you believe it? The Government - at least, the judiciary - wants your opinion about something. It's the department's first-ever "interactive debate". Why, it's practically a referendum. Last week, you got to ring the police direct on a mobile phone; now this. I shall certainly be expressing my opinion online, any minute now.

A huge question is raised here. If the DCA wants our opinion about this change in the law, how about all the others? Why didn't they ask for an interactive forum before moving to ban smoking in 90 per cent of pubs? Before trying to force the foxhunting Bill into law when 52 per cent of the public would like the sport to continue in some form? Before invading Iraq?

It's just too maddening to go down this route. If the DCA's debating forum could possibly have any concrete effect on the law, you can safely bet a million euros that it would be dropped inside a week.

How Band Aid got its lines crossed

HILARIOUS, THE row between two rock stars over who should sing a line of the Band Aid song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Bono of U2 was responsible, 20 years ago, for yelling the line, "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you". This time, he was delayed in Dublin and unable to make the group recording in Air Studios in London. Undeterred, he apparently sang it down the phone line. In the studio, Justin Hawkins, the hairy falsetto from The Darkness, sang it on the recording and claimed his delivery was better. Stung, Bono rushed to the studio, sang the line again and ensured that his version would prevail.

Trouble is, it's not a very good line, is it: "Tonight, thank God it's them..."? You can see that Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, who wrote the song, meant: "Hey, smug First World people, thank your lucky stars you're not famine victims." But it comes across as fantastically heartless. The sentiment: "Thank God they're starving rather than us" is a shock to the conscience. It conveys the opposite of what it wishes to convey.

It reminds me of when Jeffrey Archer spoke at the Tory conference about pensioners living in fear of attack. "I am sick and tired," he snarled, "of having old people coming up and telling me that they're afraid to venture out of their houses after dark" (or words to that effect). He was trying to express his exasperation at the inactivity of the Home Office and police. What came across was that he couldn't stand listening to old bags constantly whingeing about their social conditions.

Doctored no more

I've always thought that doctors are ill-served by their professional name. The dictionary is full of disobliging meanings for "doctor", meaning to corrupt or make false: doctored wine, doctored accounts. Hell, loaded dice used to be known simply as "doctors".

Now, it seems, GPs are after a new title. At least, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners has complained about the stigma of being thought "just a GP" - some way, esteem-wise, below a consultant.

So what shall we call them? Primary care physician? Family medical adviser? "Diagnostician" is too technical, "therapeutist" too close to basket-weaving. I quite like "sanitary inspector" but I can see it might be off-putting. No, we must have some proper buzz-words. "Domestic health adviser"? "Pan-medicinal consultant neurophysician"? Or just "Local Hospital Out-Patient Referral Service"?

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