Letter: Covert police tactics beyond legal control

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Sir: Michael Howard wants to restrict the right of the accused to opt for jury trial in many cases of medium severity ("Howard under fire over plans to curb jury trials", 28 February).

His principal reason, I gather, is that large numbers of these cases result in last-minute "guilty" pleas, often as a consequence of plea-bargaining in the moments before the case is due to be heard. Much expensive crown court time is wasted and the progress of other cases delayed.

The situation is no different in magistrates' courts. A surprising number of trials dissolve at the last minute for precisely the same reasons. The costs will be considerably less, but unlike the crown court, where there will probably be other cases ready to be heard, the day or half- day set aside in magistrates' courts is often lost. .

Should not the Home Secretary be looking at a ban on the Crown Prosecution Service agreeing to less serious charges, in response to the offer of "guilty" pleas, during the seven days before the trial date?

The only reason for the last-minute nature of most changes of plea is that lawyers on both sides have not contacted each other before. Human nature will see to it that things are left to the last minute - but if the last minute were to be seven days before the trial a lot of time and money would be saved.

RICHARD WELCH

Nantglyn, Clwyd

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