Exclude juries and white-collar fraud will not look like a crime

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Sir: The proposal to remove juries from serious fraud trials is on the table again. The suggestion this time is that such trials be conducted by a judge alone.

Sir: The proposal to remove juries from serious fraud trials is on the table again. The suggestion this time is that such trials be conducted by a judge alone.

The Government's plan is problematic. If serious fraud trials proceed without a jury, a message sent out is that they do not merit public participation or scrutiny. The devastating harms caused by large-scale frauds are thus more easily overlooked, and we consequently think about such behaviour in a different way from that in which we think about "crime".

A considerable proportion of serious fraud takes place in the higher echelons of corporate or organisational environments. It is notoriously difficult to detect and to police, and its perpetrators - often in positions of power - do not reflect our stereotypes of offenders. Public debates about "crime" thus become distorted, with the effect that criminality is perceived as a characteristic excessively concentrated in lower socio-economic groups.

A special process for trying serious fraud allegations risks compounding the problems that already exist in attempting to treat white-collar fraud as a proper crime. In a world where corporate executive behaviour takes place far beyond the public domain, it is important that there is a system which allows for adequate public scrutiny of allegations of all forms of serious offending - including those relating to behaviour in and around the boardroom.



Sir: The truth is out ("The £65m fiasco", 24 June). It's not juries who can't be trusted with complex fraud cases as the Home Secretary alleges, it's HM Customs & Excise.



Critics of PR ignore virtues of consensus

Sir: Jack Straw's tired old arguments about the "disproportionate" influence of small parties under PR insult our intelligence ("Those who demand PR must face the truth", 24 June). His choice of the German Free Democrats in the years 1969-1998 as his example is unfortunate - for most of this time by any measure Germany was more effective as a society and as an economy than the UK was, and the consensual political system contributed to this success.

The influence of small parties in coalition governments would only be disproportionate if they somehow managed to persuade the majority party to ditch all or most of its election manifesto and adopt all or most of the small party's. In any post-election negotiations under PR, the major party will hold the whip hand and will only make the minimal concessions necessary to the smaller one to secure a coalition deal. What's wrong with that? It will more closely mirror the will of the people.

If the necessity for "difficult but necessary decisions" arises then provided the arguments are well founded the minority party may well be persuaded to go along with them. On the other hand, the poll tax and the Iraq war are in my view examples of wrong decisions taken under an adversarial system which could and should have been avoided.



Sir: Jack Straw misses the point. The adversarial approach focuses attention on the battle, not on the policies.

Having been a GP for 25 years and been at the butt end of ever-changing, short-term, apparently populist policies by different governments without any recognition of the impact that these changes were having on the profession and patients, I have no doubt that in the fields of health, education, transport and the environment (to name a few) we all desperately need a consensus approach to politics, where we can have an adult conversation between politicians of different persuasions and plan strategically over the next 25 years rather than than next five.

"Dream on", I hear you cry!



Sir: There has been much comment since the recent election on the alleged fraudulent misuse of postal votes, but little attention seems to have been paid to a much more widespread problem, the genuine postal votes that were not counted because of the unworkable election timetable.

My wife and I are UK citizens and UK taxpayers, and have a home in the UK, but happened to be out of the country at the time of both the 2001 and 2005 elections. We registered as postal voters with our home constituency (the Isle of Wight), but in both elections, did not receive our ballot papers until a week after the election was over.

Our complaints to the official concerned on the Isle of Wight were courteously answered with a detailed explanation showing that it is impossible to distribute postal ballot papers (some of them to distant parts of the world) and receive the completed papers back by last post on election day within the timeframe allowed.

In the recent election only two weeks and two days were allowed between the closing of nominations and election day. As a result, many thousands of overseas postal voters were denied the vote.

When informed of our problem, the Electoral Commission loftily replied that "the current timetable for elections often results in overseas voters not being able to receive, complete and return their ballots in time for these to be counted. At present, there are no plans to alter this aspect of the election timetable."



Palace garden party is a just reward

Sir: My mother-in-law, a Yorkshire woman, is one of the 8,000 people selected to go to Buckingham Palace's garden party this year ("The taxpayers' guide to a Buckingham Palace garden party", 23 June).

Though not a royalist, she was very pleased to be invited and looking forward to the day. She was asked to attend as she has volunteered years of service to Barnardo's and other charities.

If, as your article suggests, it costs the taxpayer £500,000 to cater for the event, it works out at £60 a head to thank people like her who have given up countless hours to enhance their communities and tackle difficult social problems. These are skills and man-hours that the Government realise save them billions in revenue, hence 2005 being the "Year of the Volunteer".

Regardless of the fact that the garden party is at the palace, and the menu reflects a bygone age, your article suggests that it is a waste of taxpayers' money to celebrate people who share a sense of community spirit. They are not all do-gooders or minor council officials, just caring people like her who deserve their day as a small thank-you for their selflessness.



Where that standby energy goes

Sir: The increase in domestic goods that use standby power is a consequence of replacing unreliable and expensive mechanical mains power switches with electronic ones. Most people I talk to who understand this technology have reservations about the side issues involved. However a significant point about power wastage seems to have been missed in your article "Standby Britain" (23 June).

The electrical energy used by the equipment on standby is dissipated into the interior of your home as heat. The energy required to run the central heating will be lessened by the same amount (through thermostatic control). Therefore for the 75 per cent of the year that we use central heating there will be no net increase in power consumption.



Sir: The government research which revealed that electrical appliances left on standby are pumping one million tonnes of carbon into our atmosphere prompts questions, for example, about the responsibilities of retailers in cutting emissions.

Half of Britons are not aware that household power consumption contributes to climate change - clearly, there is a role that retailers can fulfil in helping to educate consumers at point of sale. In the same way that retailers will explain the health and safety implications of using an electrical appliance, they should also outline the simple steps customers can take at home to cut emissions from their goods. Our research reveals that four in five consumers would like to be recommended more energy-efficient products.

The European Union is framing legislation to force electrical manufacturers to make their products less wasteful but, rather than waiting for laws which will force them to discharge their duties, retailers must themselves take the initiative and respond with responsible action.



Sir: Congratulations on your excellent article on our energy crisis. A simple way for the Government to show leadership and save energy would be to keep British Summer Time all year long. Once the clocks go back millions of families and many thousands of offices are forced to switch on the lights for an extra hour a day. It is an extraordinarily wasteful use of a valuable resource, natural light, and an unnecessary contribution to global warming.



How cycling can save your life

Sir: Mike Rutherford in his article "Get moving on congestion policy" (Motoring, 21 June), states: "Two-wheeled travel results in more deaths and injuries than just about any other form of everyday road transport."

In 2002, among the 3,431 people we killed on our roads, 1,747 were in cars, 609 were on motorcycles and only 130 were on bicycles (UK government statistics). In contrast over 114,000 people died of coronary heart disease in 2003 (British Heart Foundation), the largest single cause of death in the UK.

Our roads become clogged if we drive everywhere and our coronary arteries clog up more if we don't exercise. May I humbly suggest a two-wheeled solution to both these problems?



Old fashioned bad manners

Sir: Has Jeremy Sirrell been hiding in the jungle with some Japanese soldiers for the past 60 years? (Letters, 24 June.) It is not acceptable these days for a man to grope a passing woman, whether on a Saturday night at a "discotheque" (how quaint!) or on the high street in the middle of the day.

His client should consider himself lucky to have got off with a mere 60 hours community service and five years registered as a sex offender. Maybe things are different out in Basildon, but the rest of the civilised world has moved on and no longer treat women as sex objects who are expected to accept the boorish behaviour of immature young men.



Sir: Jeremy Sirrell's client may currently be humiliated by having to register any change of address with the police for the next five years for what he considers a trivial act. But the madness is not about to stop if the Government has its way.

For by the time that young man's sentence is up, according to Home Office plans for its "ID card" national registration system, a majority of the population will have already been fingerprinted and be under an obligation to inform the authorities if they move - for the rest of their lives. Once you have registered your identity with the Government and been numbered, you will be under a notification regime significantly more onerous in many ways than the Sex Offenders Register.

It will never stop. Not unless we decide we want to live in a free country, not an open prison, and don't permit it to start.



Poor prospects for Armani Man

Sir: Recent stories about scams involving Armani Men and Golden Rings remind me of something which happened to a friend some time ago.

Very late for an appointment, he stopped at a parking meter only to find he had no loose change. He stopped the only pedestrian in sight and asked if he had change for a pound note (I did say it was some time ago).

The man took out a purse and very carefully emptied the contents onto his palm. There was change enough for the meter but only some 60p in total. In a state of agitation, my friend offered the pound note in payment for the change.

The man thought for a bit, then a knowing smile spread over his face. "You'll not catch me like that," he said as he carefully put the change back into his purse.