LETTER:Putting justice in jeopardy

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From Dr Gary Slapper

Sir: In focusing on problems raised by the OJ Simpson trial, your leader "Nicole's killer is still free" (4 October) wrongly contrasts an "adversarial system of justice" based on "seeking out weak points in an argument" with a "quest for truth".

There is no better way to succeed in a quest for truth than by rigorously testing conflicting versions of an event or an analysis. The coroner's inquest is the oldest inquisitorial legal process in Britain, there being no "sides" in the proceedings. Yet, whenever there are de facto oppositional accounts of a death (eg where a trade union and employer have different accounts of a workplace death), the coroner's search for truth is facilitated by the evidence elicited from witnesses by the questions of counsel for either "side".

Juries in the United States, as well as here, sometimes reach a verdict on evidence not legally relevant to the case. That is precisely why, in the US, so much time and money is spent on jury selection. In Britain, the acquittals of Clive Panting, Cynthia Payne, and Pottle and Randle were all legally perverse. If the Simpson jury was using its power to reject the prosecution's case because it saw the Los Angeles police as dishonest and racist, it would be exercising an established constitutional right.

The exercise of democracy, even microcosmically by a jury, can have very disturbing results for those who are complacent about the state of society.

Gary Slapper

The Law School

Staffordshire University

Stoke-on-Trent

4 October

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