Cosmetic changes will not affect crime

From Mr Gary Slapper

Sir: The Home Secretary's plans to tilt further the trial process in favour of the prosecution display an offensively cynical approach to his remit to deal with the problem of crime ("Howard gives prosecution a better chance", May 17).

The day the Birmingham Six were released in 1991, the Government responded to the lengthening list of similar travesties (amid the growing public mistrust of the trial process) by setting up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice to investigate ways of preventing miscarriages of justice. Since the Commission reported in 1993, the Government has effectively abolished the right to silence (defying the report's recommendations), legislated to abolish committal proceedings in magistrates' courts, and proposed a Criminal Cases Review Commission whose investigations of police malpractice will be undertaken by police officers. These schemes are hardly likely to prevent miscarriages of justice.

The historically evolved relationship between the state and the suspect has been one in which the suspect is not bound to assist the prosecution. The newly proposed rules would change that delicate balance; and the change would be based on an utterly flimsy pretext that there are "some cases" where defence lawyers have abused the disclosure rules.

Most crime is domestic burglary and car theft. Most culprits are not caught. Those who do stand trial do not have their lawyers demand documentation from the prosecution. These dangerous, cosmetic, procedural changes will have no significant impact upon crime levels.

Yours faithfully,

GARY SLAPPER

The Law School

Staffordshire University

Stoke-on-Trent

17 May

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