Letter: Will Saudis allow nurses a fair trial?

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Will Saudis allow nurses a fair trial?

Sir: The article by the Saudi ambassador on "Why Islam's law bewilders the West" (1 January) was of real interest as an answer to the populist point of view on the current proceedings against the two British nurses, which as he rightly pointed out is mistakenly concentrating on the law as practised in Muslim states. It is not however an answer to those of us concerned with the behaviour of law-enforcement agencies and the conduct of fair trials involving foreigners. One can accept that criminal codes are God-made and that it is up to the foreigner in a country to observe the laws, but in this particular instance our legitimate concerns are not being addressed.

There is more than enough gossip, most of it apparently from Saudi circles, and little enough known fact surrounding this case. The main substantiated cause of concern is that one way and another consular officials were prevented from access to the accused, contrary to the Vienna convention, and that the nurses may have been subject to unfair pressure over a period of four days to extract a confession or confessions. If our understanding is in any way correct the facts must be thoroughly probed at trial and the so- called confessions rejected. It is our understanding that this is also Muslim law.

The main causes of anxiety as to the trial procedure are two.

Is the basic right to have a lawyer to speak for you at trial and question witnesses to be observed?

Is the trial to take place in public? If not, will the authorities allow international legal rights observers to be present? With due respect to our local diplomats, who will have the right to be present under international convention, they are not versed in international procedural standards.

All legal systems, including our own, have common procedural problems that are tackled over time by human beings whose first duty to man and God is to protect the innocent before considering the punishment of the guilty. There is at least one example of a country that combines punishments and laws unacceptable to Western opinion with the highest standards of judicial and procedural fairness. Perhaps the example of the Singapore courts could commend itself in this context.

STEPHEN JAKOBI

Director

The Fair Trials Abroad Trust

Richmond, Surrey

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