Jury service, Lib Dems boycott and others

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The Independent Online

The wise and the foolish members of the British jury

Sir: My own experience of jury service was very similar to that of Matthew Lewin ("The depressing reality of jury service", 4 February).

I was assigned to a case of threatening behaviour, possession of an offensive weapon and affray. The judge spent some time explaining what each term meant. When we retired to consider our verdicts, eight jurors did not understand what "in possession" meant.

When we were not required, five jurors would spend most of the day attempting the Daily Mirror Quick Crossword, which is intended, I believe, to be completed during a coffee break. They never finished it.

Worst of all, one member of our jury was obviously mentally ill. Whilst the others were involved in the crossword, he would regale me with stories of how he had covered his hallway in foil and nailed up his letterbox, so that his neighbours would be unable to reach him with their "rays", which could cause cancer or worse.

We found the defendant guilty, the only possible verdict considering the evidence, but I do think this was a result of more luck than judgement.

Welling, Kent

Sir: Do your writers only describe jury service if they have a bad time?

I was on jury service last September and I don't recognise my own experience at all in the article. The jurors I met seemed to me to be notable for the presence of the middle-class and educated - I wondered at the time if the "stupid citizens" had failed to understand the summons. We spent the hours of waiting while defendants didn't show or legal argument took place doing the Independent or Times crossword or discussing the books we had brought.

Everyone listened intently in court, most people took notes and the jury discussions were thorough and careful.

I was summoned to St Albans Crown Court, which may indicate the problem - perhaps Matthew Lewin is just shocked to be suddenly faced with his fellow London citizens in such an intimate duty.


Sir: I was interested to read Matthew Lewin's article on jury service, where he noted that many people are currently excused or ineligible to serve on a jury. The Government has recognised that jury panels can fail to properly reflect the communities from which they are drawn. To remedy this, we legislated in the Criminal Justice Act to remove the categories of ineligibility and excusal as of right, to ensure that nearly all members of society, regardless of profession, will be able to serve on a jury. These provisions will come into effect in April.

In addition to these new provisions, my department will be revising the guidance provided to jurors. The revised guidance will set out how criminal trials work and what each of the parties involved does. It will also clearly explain the role and responsibilities of a juror.

Jury service is one of the most important public duties that anyone can be asked to perform. It is right that those whose decisions can significantly affect the areas in which they live should properly represent that community and have the right information available to carry out their duty. The work currently being taken forward will make this happen.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Department for Constitutional Affairs
London SW1

Why Lib Dems are boycotting Butler

Sir: Robin Cook is absolutely right that it would be a great shame if the intelligence agencies were to carry the blame for the Iraq war (Opinion, 4 February). Unfortunately the terms of reference of the inquiry make it almost inevitable that they will be.

By examining the accuracy of the intelligence and excluding the role of politicians, the Butler inquiry is only concerned with the role of the agencies and is caught between blaming them and exonerating them. Given that the intelligence gap is already huge and widely known it doesn't take a genius to work out which way the inquiry will probably rule. And that is why the Liberal Democrats will not be taking part.

The reason the UK and US gave for circumventing the UN process was that the inspectors weren't finding what Western intelligence "knew" to be there. Colin Powell, however, the US Secretary of State, has made it clear that "the absence of a stockpile [of WMD] changes the political calculus". This is the truth. If there was any doubt expressed in the intelligence about the existence of WMD, that doubt should have been reflected in the public statements and the inspectors should have been given time to clarify the issue.

Instead the Prime Minister at the time said it was "beyond doubt" that Iraq had WMD. This statement has been shown not to be correct. Until we know why it was not true, the Government will suffer.

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats
House of Lords

Sir: Like most I find the rights and wrongs of warfare perplexing and deeply distressing. However I still believe the final analysis on the Iraq war is relatively straightforward. Iraq's brutal Baathist dictatorship was spawned during the Cold War, nurtured under the frosty relations of East and West, and in the end was sitting idle on one of the world's richest oil reserves. For the sake of Western interests (which boils down to the freedom of each of us to better ourselves), this gangster regime quite simply had to go.

Okehampton, Devon

Sir: Since this government believes that to broadcast false allegations, and to fail to retract those allegations subsequently, requires an apology and the resignation of those ultimately responsible, then if this new inquiry shows that false information regarding Iraq was reported to us by Messrs Blair, Straw and Hoon, they must surely apologise to us and resign, if they are honourable men.

Docking, Norfolk

Sir: Tony Blair wants a line drawn under the Hutton report and the uncouth behaviour of his special adviser when carrying out his master's wishes in the spat with the BBC. Might I suggest to Mr Blair that the line will only be drawn at the ballot box when the electorate give their view on the unseemly conduct he encouraged?


Sir: If Lord Hutton provided the whitewash will Lord Butler provide the gloss?

Milton Keynes

Sir: Why the continuing surprise and outrage that the Hutton inquiry has delivered the whitewash it was set up to? Mr Blair is a barrister and must know the precept the dimmest and most junior barrister learns by heart - never put a question in such a way that you can't predict the answer. This particular inquiry merely illustrates what we already knew - Mr Blair's talent lies not in what he does but what he can make it look like.


Single parents

Sir: There is a simple and very important argument against single people having children which, in the debate about IVF treatment, I have not seen stated (letters, 22 January). What happens to the child if the single parent dies?

Where there are two committed parent-figures, then there is a spare if one of them dies. Where there is only one, then his or her death could condemn the child to the uncertainties of institutional care. It is very selfish to have a child in such circumstances. As the child of a single parent, I used to worry what would happen to me if my mother was, for instance, killed in a road accident.

Of course, nothing in this argument entails that the two committed parent-figures need to be of different genders.


Sir: The right to know one's genetic parent raises some profound ethical questions in relation, particularly, to sperm donation. Is the work subject to health and safety regulations? Does it receive the minimum wage? And, who on earth would want to know that their father was an onanistic student offsetting his university tuition fees?

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Feminist models

Sir: I have just read your article questioning whether Jordan is a feminist role model (31 January). I was staggered by the replies of the so-called prominent women thinkers. Admiring Jordan's ability to endure spiders crawling over her face is one thing, but holding her up as a feminist icon is absurd.

It wasn't so long ago that prominent women thinkers slated women who perpetuated the role of the stereotypical male fantasy. Now it seems to be highly commendable for young women to have their breasts surgically distorted to cartoonesque proportions in order to improve career prospects.

Jordan has achieved much of what she set out to. But to qualify as a feminist role model, women have to do more than take off their bras to please leering hordes of men. As for her role in I'm a Celeb, so far her conversation has been limited to sex , boyfriends and boob jobs. There is a more worthy contender for winner, someone with real character - it's got to be John Lydon.


Animal rights

Sir: Deborah Orr, in her column "The irrelevance of our cranky animal rights causes" (29 january), states that "the animal has no way of knowing it is in possession of rights, let alone of actively defending them".

Isn't it precisely for this reason, because they are voiceless and defenceless, that they need protection from those who make the final decisions regarding their fate? A primate, unable to speak or to rationalise, is no less deserving of rights than is a human baby or paraplegic.


Sir: Our attitude to animal rights is a leftover from Judeo-Christian belief that animals were given us by an Almighty God to use for our own benefit - a notion it has been convenient for us to retain, for narrowly self-serving reasons, just as we are throwing the rest of the edifice of organised religion away.

As neurological science, by contrast, shows us ever more clearly how very similar we are to all mammals, but above all to primates, the justifications for abusing them as we do become more and more tenuous.


Gifts for girls

Sir: My late mother (born in pre-Revolutionary Russia) would have been amused by Ruth Harrison's letter (4 February). Family and friends quickly learned not to give her dolls, as she invariably broke the head to observe the eye mechanism. She did not become an engineer, the mathematical talent having gone to her older sister, but worked as a lawyer in Latvia and was our main source of income in this country as a senior lecturer in Russian literature.

Neither I nor my daughter, an electronic engineer, ever played with dolls either, but my granddaughter is pink and frilly and will only play Happy Families if she gets "all the girls".


Blunkett outburst  

Sir: Bully for Sir David Ramsbotham for his reaction to the Home Secretary's comments on Harold Shipman's suicide, and shame on Stephen Pollard for rejoicing in his death and that of Myra Hindley. (Opinion, 2 February). Sure Mr Blunkett is making some sensible, but not very original, suggestions like greater use of community work sentences and part-time prison, but that does not excuse his revolting reaction to Shipman's death. It is not only in Islington that people have more civilised standards.

Croesyceiliog, Gwent

No gimmicks

Sir: You are doubtless correct that "gimmicks alone will not bring voters to turn out for Europe" (leading article, 2 February). What would undoubtedly help is agreement on the EU's new constitution, which enhances the capacity of Europe to act at home and abroad and strengthens significantly the powers of the European Parliament. It is a pity that your own recent policy on the constitution has become so contemptuous.

Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional affairs, European Parliament, Brussels


Sir: Wordsworth was not responsible for the tongue-twister "Earth hath not anything to show more fair" ("Test your Knowledge", 4 February); he wrote "Earth has not anything ...". And Jane Austen did not say that "A man in possession of a fortune must be in search of a wife" but that it was "universally acknowledged" that he "must be in want of" one. Both were very exact with words, unlike your testers. (Oh, and re your leader, it is "Once more unto the breach", not "into".)

Peterhouse, Cambridge

Leaving Labour

Sir: Your reader who bemoans the fact that he can't resign from the Labour Party over Hutton because he resigned a year ago (letter, 3 February) should not despair. Do it again - they probably weren't listening. My family and I resigned over the war and I stood as an anti-war candidate in the local elections (causing a Labour councillor to lose his seat to the Lib Dems) and we are still receiving the party magazine and reminders that our membership fees are due. We will not be participating in the big conversation as we are clearly inaudible.