French justice, Europe, hooligans and others

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The Independent Online

Accused get a fair trial in France, but a different one

Sir: Paul Kenton (Letters, 14 June) has a good point about differing legal cultures, but he gives a bad example. The French criminal justice system is not a poor version of our procedures in England and Wales. It is a good example of a quite different system.

It is a basic principle of French, as of any other civilised system of law, that "Every person suspected or prosecuted is presumed innocent as long as his guilt has not been established" (Paragraph III of the preamble to the French Code of Criminal Procedure). The question is how that guilt is to be established.

We do it by requiring the prosecution to prove its case at a trial in which all the issues are decided at once. Most systems in mainland Europe do it by an inquiry, a process in which the judiciary controls the investigation and the trial is only the last stage. In our system all evidence about disputed issues is given by live witnesses at trial. In mainland European systems most of the evidence is collected by the inquiry; the trial is about evaluation of that evidence. In our system the decision is a bald "guilty or not guilty", in the French system the court gives the reasons for its decision. It is a different system that requires different checks and balances. People caught up in it do not need some of the safeguards that they need in our system, but they do need other safeguards that are not needed in this country.

There is a story that the prosecutors in the Nuremburg trials had a problem deciding what the Nazi leaders should be charged with. It was an English lawyer's suggestion that the appropriate charge was conspiracy. The Soviet lawyers, Stalin's handpicked prosecutors, reacted with horror to the idea that any system of law could contain such a concept, that people could be convicted simply for planning something. It is too easy to assume that legal systems that one does not understand are unfair.

Mr Kenton is certainly right that defendants in criminal trials in French courts do not have the rights that they have in England and Wales. But unless one assumes that the French courts try to operate in the same way as our courts (and they don't), the only sensible reaction is "So what?"


Flaws in the case for staying in Europe

Sir: Several legal misconceptions marred the front page article "The £23bn question" (16 June). The two most significant were as follows.

Withdrawing from the EU would not have any effect at all on Acts of the UK Parliament passed to enact EU directives. Thus, for example, the fundamental employment and social welfare rights (many of which did indeed find their way into UK law because EU directives required their implementation here), would remain part of UK domestic law if the UK withdrew from the EU.

Second, the European Convention on Human Rights has nothing to do with the EU. Membership of the EU does not mean ratification of the convention, and non-membership does not preclude ratification. The convention has been imported into UK law by an Act of the UK Parliament (the Human Rights Act 1998). Withdrawal from the EU would not mean repeal of that Act. Citizens of the UK would still be protected by the "set of fundamental human rights" mentioned in the article.

Temple, London EC4

Sir: While I may share your views of the UKIP entirely ("The true face of a party which wants us out of Europe", 15 June) I was perturbed when I saw your front page.

When I began reading your newspaper in the 1980s I did so, and have continued to do so, because its guiding principle was that it remained independent of political direction, allowing readers to make up their own minds when presented with factual news. Your front page of 15 June is more akin to a party political broadcast. While I might expect a modicum of political opinion on your editorial pages, I do not expect to read a front page that is in all but name a propaganda leaflet telling me why I should not vote for a particular party.

Northwood, Middlesex

Sir: Thank you for laying out what the UK has gained from being a member of the EU. I have lived and worked in Germany for the past 17 years. My daughter was born here. Thanks to the EU, this is not a problem. If the UK were to withdraw, I would either be faced with so many disadvantages in terms of social security and pensions that I would have to leave a well-paid job and return to the UK or I would be forced to take German citizenship - neither is an option I want to consider.

It is time people in the UK relinquish the island mentality. We are a part of Europe geographically and culturally.

Leverkusen, Germany

Sir: Your front page (15 June), lists "10 things the UKIP don't want you to know about them". Why do you imagine that we do not want the electorate to know that our 12 MEPs are "all white, male, and aged between 50 and 65"? Why is the colour, gender and age of our MEPs so important? We are neither racist, sexist, nor ageist. It doesn't matter to us; why does it matter to you?

Campaign Manager, UKIP London W1

Sir: If there is a valid criticism of the European project, it lies in the asymmetrical power of the unelected Commission relative to that of the elected Parliament. Yet UKIP's grand plan (report, 15 June) is to wreck the one European institution that can truly represent the ordinary people. In doing so they attack not the EU but the citizens of the member states, their liberties and freedoms. Precisely those they claim to represent.

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Sir: Remember the hysterical warnings from the anti-Europeans and tabloids about Britain being flooded by immigrants from eastern Europe on 1 May? Well, it's now been six weeks since we welcomed 10 new countries into the European Union, and the floods of immigrants have spectacularly failed to arrive - just as they did in 1981, 1986 and 1995. Yet another Eurosceptic scare story has been discredited.

(Lab, Yorkshire and the Humber)

Yobs in Portugal?

Sir: Your article "Eng-er-land, 900 years of behaving badly in Portugal" (9 June) shows a level of historical knowledge and balance that would do credit to the education of England's finest football hooligans.

That Wellington played a part in liberating Portugal from the French is at least acknowledged - even if it was by "his drunken recruits sacking, despoiling and thieving as they went". The French actually did far more damage. The fact is that Portugal's earlier and continued independence owes much to England and the relationship has generally been positive.

The article says "from the Portuguese point of view things began to do wrong in 1147 when a mob of English 'Crusaders' stopped off for some preparatory looting and murder in Lisbon". History relates that Lisbon was the last city of Portugal to be taken from the Moors by King Afonso Henriques, and yielded only after a siege of several months in which he was aided by English and Flemish crusaders on their way to Syria. The newly appointed bishop was an Englishman called Gilbert who had come with the Crusaders. Under him the magnificent cathedral of Sé was begun.

In 1383, Portugal nearly fell into the clutches of Castile, but a bastard of the royal house, John, Master of the Knights of Aviz, aided by five hundred English archers, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Spaniards at Aljubarrota, the Portuguese Bannockburn. John of Aviz, known as the Great, married Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt; and from this union sprang a line of princes and kings under whom Portugal became one of the leading nations of Europe.

One often has cause to be ashamed of English behaviour overseas but the situation does not need to painted worse than it is or was by bad history.

London SW2

Science on the Net

Sir: The rationale for publishing scientific research is to ensure it is read by and influences the work of as many other researchers as possible - moving the body of knowledge forward (Outlook by Jeremy Warner, 4 June).

The Wellcome Trust has recognised that open access publishing via the internet offers the most efficient way of doing this as long as access to the article is unfettered by access charges. This is the real benefit of publishing in the open access format. It is not just an altruistic act as your article suggests, but a better, modern way of doing science which benefits scientists globally and, in the case of the research we fund, the public, through improved medical research.

Any potential savings, and our report indicates this could be as much as 30 per cent, are really collateral benefits and not the main issue.

Senior Policy Adviser
The Wellcome Trust
London NW1

Voting by post

Sir: As postal voting has clearly proved to be less than satisfactory, not least because of the risk of furthering electoral malpractice, the Government might consider adopting procedures applied by some of our European neighbours. This would mean, instead of calling the next general election on a Thursday, as has occurred on very occasion since 1935, having the poll over an entire weekend.

Even so, whether increased numbers of electors would go to the polls (compared with 59.4 per cent in 2001) is not so much a matter of when or how the elections are held but, whether they perceive real differences between the policies advanced by the contending parties and their candidates.

Lowestoft, Suffolk

Sir: I hate to sound illiberal, but if electors are unable to follow simple instructions and fill in their name and address on a form, ("Witness confusion led to loss of 60,000 postal votes", 16 June) one has to wonder whether they should be allowed to vote at all.

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Save lives in Sudan

Sir: The International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, deserves to be congratulated for being honest about the situation as he sees it in Darfur in Sudan ("Britain pressures UN to stop Darfur raids", 10 June).

My colleagues and I in GOAL (an international humanitarian organisation) support his call for immediate action to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Western Sudan. The overriding question in Sudan now is not who did what to whom or even who will do what in the future, but how are we going to keep the 2 million or so affected people alive?

The time for recriminations is after the humanitarian organisations have done what they can to save the lives of the vulnerable. The raids must be stopped now and the aid agencies given total and free access as soon as possible. The longer the delay, the more people will die.

London W1

Battle for viewers

Sir: Jane Lighting's statement ("We're a grown-up channel now", 8 June) that in Freeview homes Channel 5 "beats Channel 4 every month" is completely misleading. Channel 4's monthly share of viewing in Freeview homes has been higher than Channel 5 since December 2002. What Ms Lighting is referring to is viewing through the Freeview box only, excluding all other viewing in the home.

Between January and April this year, Channel 4's share in Freeview homes has been 11.1 per cent and Channel 5 has been 8.9 per cent. Year-on-year Channel 4 has seen the biggest growth in share of all terrestrial channels in Freeview homes - up 15 per cent - while Five's growth is just 1 per cent.

Chief Press Officer
Channel 4 Television
London SW1


Verbal warning

Sir: Pandora (11 June) need have no fear that admirers of Lynn Truss will start thinking that she is bored of the wonderful world of grammar. The real risk is that she may become bored with it.

Chalford, Gloucestershire

In command

Sir: There are to be highly publicised courts martial of British NCOs and soldiers. Whenever something goes wrong in our armed forces - mistreatment of prisoners or deaths in recruit depots - there is one really important question to be answered. The defining role of commissioned officers is to delegate action but not legal, military and moral authority and judgement. So in each case, where were the officers?

Associate Fellow
Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
London SW1

British films

Sir: The National Film and Television Archive (NFTVA) should concentrate on acquiring those British films (particularly silents and early talkies) which no other company or archive holds (report, 12 June). It should publish an updated list detailing the gaps in its collection and enter into discussions with private collectors. The BFI could create an enormous amount of goodwill, and also encourage donations of cash and rare titles, by the very simple expedient of showing much more of what it does have at the NFT and elsewhere.

Surbiton, Surrey

Take no notice

Sir: Last weekend I drove past a building site. A large notice read: "New houses released". Below it was another notice: "Danger: keep out." Fortunately my house is 500 years old and is now quite content to rest on its foundations.

Steventon, Oxfordshire