Letters: Criminal justice system

Blair's populist attack on the right to a fair trial
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The Independent Online

Mr Blair's analysis seems to demonstrate a complete failure to understand the absolutely fundamental basis of the criminal law. A "suspect" - that is, anyone suspected of a crime - is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty. He is therefore deemed to be a member of "the law-abiding majority" until such time as he is proved to be otherwise. There is accordingly no tension between the two sets of rights and the analysis is based on a fallacy.

Blair appears not to understand this. Such ignorance would be surprising in a trained lawyer, were it genuine. However, mendacious as always, Blair affects to misunderstand, so as to allow him to introduce this populist rhetoric into the debate.

The logical outcome of Blair's balancing exercise is to reverse the burden of proof, and compel suspects - including any previously "law-abiding" individual - to prove their innocence. That would of course make the task of the prosecutors much easier, and secure many more convictions, of the innocent as well as the guilty.

The idea that any UK government would contemplate altering the burden of proof in criminal cases would, until very recently, have been regarded as fantasy. I suggest that this Government is entirely capable of doing so, egged on by the Murdoch press and others, its critics characterised as dangerous, woolly-minded liberals who are unaware of the real threat to "the law-abiding majority".



Sir: The coining of "rebalancing" to describe the act of dismantling our principle of innocent till proven guilty is textbook PR (report, 23 June). Whoever developed this strategy to brand Blair's latest attack on civil liberties deserves an award.

Balancing is a term taken from the New Age, alternative/complementary health world. It's part of a vocabulary that is innately positive: rebalancing your life force; aligning your chakras; channeling your energies. In the non-alternative world balance is an equally potent and positive word associated with harmony, good mental state and fairness.

Its appropriation by Blair to put a desirable aura over the deliberate erosion of fundamental principles of justice is a disgustingly cynical piece of hoodwinkery.



Don't single out 4x4s for blame

Sir: As a 4x4 driver, I must protest at your front page (23 June) which is nothing more than an amalgamation of misguided and untrue information, spouted out by extremist members of various organisations. From my own experience as a driver who does over 35,000 miles per year, there are many examples of bad driving from all types vehicles on the road.

I see more white vans driven recklessly than 4x4s; I get tailgated by 38-ton articulated lorries on the motorway; I have to run the gauntlet of souped-up hot hatches with music so loud it scares old ladies, driven at high speed at all hours around the village where I live. I see so-called "normal" cars being driven so badly that they are lethal weapons. I see aggressive driving. I see drivers who are so incapable that they should not be behind the wheel.

These are just a few of the "target groups" that could be publicly criticised by the paper, but no, the 4x4 is the public enemy number one? I think not.

To quote the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s "Driving a 13mpg 4x4 rather than a 25mpg car for a year will waste more energy than leaving the fridge open for seven years." Well good news! The vast majority of 4x4s in this country are diesel-powered and most do over 30mpg.

Targeting a particular group of drivers is very petty. For all the quotes in the article, there is a counter quote in favour of the 4x4. You say that 4x4s cause more damage in an accident? Well so do large cars, vans, lorries and buses. The occupants of the 4x4 may survive a crash with a lorry, when the occupants of a small car would stand little chance. The fact is that there have always been, and always will be large and small vehicles.

The fact that sales are up says something; more people like 4x4s. Why target them? They are popular. It's a free country.



Sir: Six years ago, my parents were killed in a road accident involving a side-on collision with an SUV. Despite the fact that the saloon car they were driving had side-impact bars and a high safety rating, the car was thrown through the air, turning over several times and killing them instantly. The SUV driver (who was not at fault) walked away without any injury.

Two months after the funeral, I bought my first SUV; I now own two. I've moved from the UK to the north-eastern USA, where it's not unusual for me to have to drive to work in 6-12 inches of snow during the winter, but this is not the main reason why I drive a 4x4. I have a wife and a four-year-old daughter: if they are ever unlucky enough to be in an accident, I want them, like the driver of that SUV six years ago, to be able to walk away uninjured. After seeing what happened to my parents, I would never drive a saloon car again.



Sir: Thanks for your article about the scourge of 4x4s on our roads. I had to smile when charity executive Bruce Thompson said that his Land Rover Discovery takes up "no more space than a saloon". I, like countless others I'm sure, have to pull over into the hedgerows every day to allow these leviathans to pass on normal-width country roads. They are invariably on the school run and driven by people with absolutely no idea of their own bulk.

As they glide past me looking down on me from on high, instead of the customary cheery wave, I have taken to giving a two-finger salute. It might seem a little extreme to some, but after all, these drivers are blatantly putting up two fingers to the environment and other road users every time they climb into their gas-guzzlers, so why not show them what we really think of them?



Sir: The 4x4 phenomenon has long intrigued me. In eastern Turkey a lawyer agreed to show me the countryside. He drove a new Toyota Corolla and, once we left town to visit outlying villages the roads (tracks would be a better description), left a lot to be desired. So why did he not buy a 4x4? As a lawyer he had to have a "city" car as a symbol of his status. Visiting clients using a 4x4 was only one step above driving a tractor.

Not so in Istanbul. There the nouveau riche are all clogging up the freeways with their 4x4s. I would take bets that they never venture out into the wilds of Turkey. And I would also bet that most of the west London residents have never dirtied their 4x4s with the mud of the country.



Relativism and the British Empire

Sir: Johann Hari reverts to his earlier defective arguments ("The truth? Our empire killed millions", 19 June). He compares British camps for famine victims in late 19th-century India with Nazi concentration camps. He compares British imperial rule with Stalinist collectivisation. And he continues to misrepresent the arguments of my last book, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. All this betrays a combination of embarrassing ignorance and disturbing relativism.

I have already urged Hari to read more widely before inflicting his essays on us, but somehow, like an idle undergraduate, he can't find the time. On his website, he boasts that in researching his articles he read not only Davis's book, but also Noam Chomsky's Year 501 and The Discovery of India by Jawaharal Nehru. It would be hard to devise a less adequate reading list.

Curiously, the two books I accused Hari of not having read go unmentioned in his latest rant, as does my new book, The War of the World. Had they all mysteriously disappeared from the library on the day the essay was due?

Hari's relativism is more troubling. There is, as The War of the World makes clear, a real difference between mismanaging a natural disaster on the basis of an erroneous understanding of economics - which is what the Victorians did in India - and systematically pursuing "the liquidation of the kulaks as a class" or "the final solution of the Jewish question".

There was nothing remotely like Auschwitz in British India, just as there was nothing remotely like Solovetsky in 1950s Kenya. To argue otherwise is to commit the same error of categorisation made by those juvenile leftists who tediously liken Republican presidents to Hitler.



Arguments for an anarchistic art form

Sir: The graffiti by the "guerrilla" artist Banksy on the wall of a sexual health clinic in Bristol (report, 23 June) is absolutely brilliant.

As a "friend" of the Royal Academy and Tate, I would love to see a wall space set aside for graffiti artists at exhibitions and look forward to the day when an artist can proudly proclaim, "I'm a member of the g-RA-ffiti".

The argument will then arise whether he or she has sold their soul to the establishment by betraying the ethos of their anarchistic art form. What is art, after all, without argument? If the RA does it, the Tate will be obliged to respond as competition between galleries draws in the punters. The winners will collect the Banksy Award, which will give them the freedom to express themselves for a year without being arrested.



Why rebel MP was reprimanded

Sir: The official reprimand given to Alan Simpson MP (report, 21 June) came as a result of his statement in the London Evening Standard of 28 March 2006 that the actions of his parliamentary colleagues could be compared to a "democracy Franco used to like".

In that article, Alan Simpson alleged that the Whips' Office had not included a "rebel" voice to serve on the Education Bill Committee. In fact, the Whips' Office had thought it important that a full representation of views should be expressed on that committee and had asked more than a dozen backbenchers who had voted against the Government to take part. All refused - including Alan Simpson, whom I personally approached.

Despite being reminded of the facts, Alan Simpson refused to apologise or retract his remarks and subsequently used another newspaper to make inflammatory remarks about both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The vast majority of Labour MPs and party members simply do not believe that this sort of language is acceptable. It is on this basis and with the full backing of the parliamentary committee, that the official reprimand has been given.



Public sector's role in tackling exclusion

Sir: The Work and Pensions Secretary, John Hutton, argues that the public sector alone cannot tackle social exclusion. There must be a greater role for private and voluntary organisations (report, 15 June). However, the argument that public funds are better spent by charities and voluntary groups rather than the public sector is far from proven.

Many third-sector organisations have close links to big business, and pay some of their executives salaries to match. The Government intends to "pump-prime" these organisations with millions more of public money. We think such money would be better spent on enhancing the capacity of the public sector, staffed by committed and experienced public servants, to fight social exclusion, rather than funding the generous salaries of private-sector executives and consultants.

The public sector is not able to offer the support many would like because the Government is intent on cutting budgets and jobs regardless of the impact on services. Many key services have now reached crisis point. Rather than dismantling the welfare state, and turning social policy clock back to Victorian times, the Government should be giving the public sector the resources it needs to do the job.



A new Brunel bridge

Sir: Hey, never mind about birds ("The eagle flies again" 22 June). If The Independent has discovered a Brunel bridge on the Menai Strait it should publish the details immediately. I guarantee that Bangor would fill with industrial archaeologists eager to compare it with the known Telford and Stephenson bridges.



Bikes need rear mirrors

Sir: Your recent and welcome articles on bicycling and essential accessories omitted one of the most important: the mirror. They are a compulsory fitment on cars for obvious reasons; a driver must see what is behind him to avoid an accident. The same applies to the cyclist, but to an even greater extent; he will almost certainly be overtaken and is at far greater risk.



Clarkson is dangerous

Sir: James Goldman (letter, 21 June) is far too tolerant of Jeremy Clarkson, calling him an entertainer who can be simply dismissed as "downright silly". Yes, his views on motoring can be so dealt with, but a highly reputable Sunday newspaper gives him a weekly opportunity to rant on about politics, and particularly to express his ludicrous opinion that there is no such thing as climate change. The fact that a few of his readers may become convinced that he is right turns him from a harmless entertainer into a dangerous agitator.



Kandinsky in Edinburgh

Sir: On 21 June you reported that "it seemed completely bizarre" that there had never been an exhibition of Kandinsky's paintings in the UK until now. Too bizarre to be true, in fact. I recall attending a Kandinsky exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival in 1979. I entered the exhibition as a doubter and emerged as a convert, so it must have been rather a good exhibition as well.



The meaning of 'racist'

Sir: Since the Scots and the English are of the same race, any attacks of one upon the other must surely be correctly termed "nationalist", not "racist" (report, 22 June). It is time we had more precision in the use of the latter term, and stopped using it as a catch-all to describe any form of prejudice.