Letter: Criminal injustice

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Sir: Your report (9 December) of the address by Professor Zander may give the impression that all is well within the criminal justice system, especially so far as juries are concerned. In fact there is no room for complacency and it would be disastrous if the Royal Commission were to assume that the survey demonstrates that it is only in a minority of cases that concern should be felt.

The survey was of necessity carried out when the subjects knew that they were being surveyed. Self-assessment or assessment of lawyers by lawyers is not an independent or reliable tool. Thus judges and lawyers would be on their best behaviour and not likely to underperform or exhibit bias. Jurors in assessing ability to understand the proceedings were more likely to be talking of the inability of other jurors to comprehend the proceedings than themselves. Many of those surveyed were participating in the system for the first time whether as jurors or as defendants.

The survey did not cover other users such as victims, witnesses and probation officers. The surveyed cases were tried by circuit judges and were not high profile or cases where experience has shown that miscarriages do occur. Nor were they cases that place stress on the allegiances of those who run the system, or participate in it, such as those where there are conflicts of ideas, or where there are political or ethnic factors.

The impact of the new restrictions on availability of legal aid and the contraction of the pool of solicitors willing to undertake legally aided criminal work because of the long and unsocial hours and the poor rate of remuneration is a matter of grave concern. It could make the survey in part irrelevant as more unrepresented defendants enter police stations and the criminal justice system.

Finally a plea for more research. It should be ongoing, adequately funded and one of the Royal Commission's recommendations.

Yours faithfully,


Guildford, Surrey

9 December