Letter: Independent minds at the Bar

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The Independent Online
Sir: In Polly Toynbee's account (10 April) of the decision of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee that independent lawyers (barristers or solicitors) should alone be permitted to present cases in the higher courts, she includes a false slur on the integrity and independence of mind of prosecuting barristers.

In commenting on my stated belief that in the more serious cases an independent mind is needed as a safeguard against abuse, she adds a sly innuendo that barristers were responsible for recent miscarriages of justice.

The truth is that in countless cases every year, barristers are exercising their independent judgement whether the evidence is sufficient for a case to proceed, whether a plea to a lesser charge should be accepted, or whether potentially helpful evidence should be disclosed to the defence.

But of course it is not on the basis of evidence provided by barristers that cases proceed, they have to work on the material provided to them.

So, for example, in the Guildford Four trial, the decision of the Court of Appeal to quash the convictions of the Four was based solely on the alleged fabrication by Surrey police of their confessions (as Sir John May concluded in his painstaking inquiry into the case). As for Matrix Churchill, which she also cites, lead defendant Trevor Abraham's Counsel, Gilbert Gray QC, has made clear that the true cause of the wrongful prosecution was Alan Clark's failure, until cross-examination, to tell the truth about his own role in encouraging manufacturers not to give truthful descriptions in export documents. It was this economy with "the actualite" that led to the collapse of the prosecution.

Surely the fact that such miscarriages of justice can occur when police or government ministers make mistakes or worse make it more, not less, important that a second and independent mind should be brought to bear to give a greater chance that the truth alone will be presented in court?

Peter Goldsmith QC

The General Council

of the Bar

London WC1