Sir: The concentration on the shackling of the defendants and speculation on possible penalties in media reports on the opening of the trial of the nurses in Saudi Arabia appears to have allowed a remarkable shift in trial procedures to pass unnoticed.
Readers of The Independent (Letters, 2 January 1997) will recall our concern with the conduct of any trial according to Saudi custom. Our first anxiety was that the right of the defendants to have a lawyer to speak for them with powers to probe evidence and produce it on their behalf was on all past form unlikely to be granted. We were pleased to note that preliminary reports attributed to defence lawyers indicate that in a radical shift from precedent the Saudi authorities are conducting this trial on a Western adversarial model, with not only the defence and prosecution being represented properly but the victim's family being legally represented as well.
Unfortunately the trial is not being conducted in public, or at least with international observers present. It is hard to understand why a public trial was not provided for, thus completing perhaps the most remarkable transformation of trial procedures we have ever witnessed.
Director, The Fair Trials Abroad Trust