Letter: Woodward trial

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Sir: When Gary and Sue Woodward came to me for advice concerning Louise after her arrest, I publicly proclaimed that if one had to be tried outside one's native land there would be few places one would prefer to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Like many others on both sides of the Atlantic, I watched with growing disbelief and horror as accumulative human errors produced a catastrophic miscarriage of justice and blatant abuse of human rights by an experienced and reputable trial judge.

Two substantial points in this trial attract immediate attention.

First, the extraordinary local gamble of "loose-or-noose", where an inexperienced foreign youngster is encouraged to bet her life on the advice of respected lawyers, including the active encouragement of the trial judge. In effect the lawyers were the gamblers and she was merely the stake.

Second, when the jury had been out a long time and returned to review the key medical evidence, they were given the prosecution evidence, repeatedly refused parallel defence evidence and bullied by the judge into returning a verdict without it. It was the most spectacular display of breach of that most fundamental principle of fair trials, parity of arms between prosecution and defence, that I have ever witnessed in a country with a mature justice system.

Justice is always a human activity prone to error even in the best legal systems. One of the characteristics of the great common law tradition is that when serious mistakes are made those in authority strive to rectify the position without delay. Today ("Woodward faces the hardest choice of all", 3 November), the trial judge has the power and opportunity to show that he is both human and in that great tradition.

STEPHEN JAKOBI

Director

The Fair Trials Abroad Trust

Richmond, Surrey

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