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Thursday 21 August 2008
Letters: Miscarriages of justice
When jury members need to do their own research
A disturbing implication of your report that jurors' internet investigations have been blamed for the collapse of two trials (20 August) is apparently that independent research by the jurors in a trial is invariably wrong and prejudicial.
However, each such case has surely to be assessed on its merits. Clearly, searching the internet for unsubstantiated material about a defendant and then disseminating this to the other jurors is likely to be prejudicial. However, a number of miscarriages of justice might well have been avoided if there had been some independent further inquiry by a conscientious and competent juror. The notorious cot-death miscarriages are an example. The judge in those cases was apparently as bamboozled as were the jurors by the quoted statistics. However, anyone having even a modest acquaintance with the principles of probability would have been suspicious of the extreme probabilities claimed and would surely have been right to question them and to investigate how they might have been arrived at.
Such research might well involve the internet, where very many wholly respectable sources are readily accessible; for example, academic journals are now routinely accessed using the internet – in some cases for back issues without even needing a subscription to the publisher.
If, to quote Hugh Griffith's Lord High Steward as trial judge in Kind Hearts and Coronets, ascertaining the truth is "the entire object of these proceedings", it is both worrying and perverse that a juror in such a case who conscientiously undertakes further investigation of relevant material should, for his or her pains, risk a citation for contempt of court.
Dr Christopher T Husbands
Department of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science
How prohibition boosts drug use
I'm writing about Ian Oliver's not-so-thoughtful article, "Legalising drugs would only make matters worse" (19 August). If all types of recreational drugs were legalised and sold in regulated, controlled and taxed business establishments for pennies per dose, your overall crime rate would decline dramatically, and public safety would increase substantially.
And I believe your overall hard drug usage rates would decline substantially. That is because drug-dealers as we know them today would disappear for economic reasons.
The first time almost all drug-users use a particular drug, they don't buy it: either a friend or drug dealer gives it to them. Most retail dealers of hard drugs are addicts themselves. They sell drugs to finance their own habit and recruit new users by offering free samples to potential customers. With the end of drug prohibition, this practice would end.
Mesa, Arizona, USA
The former chief constable Ian Oliver makes the common mistake of assuming that punitive drug laws actually reduce use.
UK policymakers should consider the experience of the United States. The results of a World Health Organisation survey in July found the US had the highest rates of cannabis and cocaine use of 17 countries surveyed, including those such as the Netherlands that have decriminalised drug use.
These abysmal results are not due to lack of trying. Thanks to the US drugs war, the land of the free now has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Rather than emulate the US approach, the UK should go Dutch.
Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, DC, USA
I welcome Julian Critchley's call for the debate on drugs to be rational and evidence-based ("All the experts admit that we should legalise drugs", 14 August). But what we get is simply repetition of evidence-free assertions and myths.
Let's start with the assertion that all experts admit we should legalise drugs. Well, no. Try the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Mental Health Nurses Association and the BMA. Then add Dame Ruth Runciman, who chaired the Police Foundation independent inquiry which led to the downgrading of the classification of cannabis (now reversed); she advocated measured liberalisation but not legalisation.
Drug use has been falling steadily in the UK for the past 10 years, especially among the young, which rather suggests that the policy is going in the right direction.
The strongest argument for legalisation would be if it broke the link between drugs and criminality. Of this, Critchley asserts, there is no doubt. But he offers no evidence. The harsh reality is that wherever drugs are bought and sold the links to criminal supply chains remain stubbornly present.
"Ah, but what about the Netherlands?" will be the predictable cry. The limited experiment with brown cafes there failed to break the link between cannabis and crime. The Dutch authorities have been steadily back-tracking and the number of brown cafes has dropped sharply since the late 1980s.
Medals table leaves Australia in shock
Congratulations to the Great Britain team for doing so well at the Olympics, especially beating Australia. The ramification for us "down under" is that we have all these sporting bodies as well as the AOC begging the government for more money to match Great Britain.
While services suffer and pensioners have not had an increase in years, these athletes think that we, the taxpayer should fund their sports. There is a war in Georgia, deaths in Afghan-istan, the starving in Darfur and all the media lead with is the medal tally. Taxpayers in Australia and other counties should be telling governments to get their priorities right. How many millions did each medal cost, and was it worth it?
I am always suspicious of the kind of nationalism promoted by the Olympic Games; it is a bit too close to jingoism for my liking.
They should be a celebration of the achievements of our fellow human beings, not a chance for one country to boss it over another.
Sport and humanity are the losers when we celebrate that a race has been won by a Brit, who happens to be John/Jane Doe, rather than by John/Jane Doe, who happens to be British.
Such is the shallow fickleness of BBC commentators that with one leap they have replaced "And the Brit has done so well to come in 42nd in the field" with "They must be disappointed with that result", which you now hear when one of our athletes wins "only" a silver or a bronze. And what will follow that? Presumably, "Our athletes have let us down and failed."
All other countries at the Olympics appear to use their own names, such as China, Russia, USA. So why are we Team GB instead of Great Britain?
Dangers of playing on Russian fears
As usual, when it concerns Russia (and often much else) Mary Dejevsky can understand the verities of a situation (Opinion, 18 August). Unless the whole conflict in Georgia is really over control of an oil pipeline, which I doubt, I really cannot understand why Bush and his neo-con supporters cannot understand (apparently) why it is so dangerous to encourage nationalist aspirations, Nato membership, selling arms and giving military training to the successor states of the old Soviet Union.
Of course, this gives those states the idea that they can "torment" the Russian bear as much as they wish, because they have US support. Can the Americans not understand that this is an extremely volatile part of the world, where emotions run high on both sides, and can very quickly turn to violent action? Add to that the historical Russian fear of encirclement and attack from the West and you can soon have a very combustible situation.
By continued failure to understand the Russian point of view, the West not only increases tensions and the risk of conflict, but by cutting off Russia from the West it cuts us off from the richness of Russian culture, which has given so much to the world of art, music, literature and science.
Dr Peter Giles
Who gave David Cameron the authority to speak on behalf all British people, saying that Georgia has our strongest possible support? He is not even a government spokesman. Has he done some extensive survey we do not know about?
Learning English from Enid Blyton
I grew up in India in the 1960s and 1970s, and started learning English from the age of four ("Blyton nation's favourite author", 19 August). My friends and I had outstanding teachers, who taught us to love the language and to see its irregularities as endearing quirks rather than barriers to fluency.
The only "resources" they had (apart from the occasional British Council audio tape that came by parcel post from Kolkata) were blackboard, chalk and a vast library of books by authors ranging from Shakespeare, Milton and the Romantic poets to Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, A J Cronin, Daphne du Maurier, Georgette Heyer and P G Wodehouse.
The 30 girls in my class came from varied backgrounds and spoke different languages at home. Almost all of us became avid readers. This helped us to think and speak in idiomatic English, rather than rely on clumsy direct translation. Once we had this skill, we could debate the literary and moral merits of what we read, and laugh at some of the cruder displays of political incorrectness.
Thank goodness, my teachers did not insult my intelligence by censoring my reading list. To my knowledge, no one from my school has turned into a racist or a self-hating Hindu after reading Enid Blyton. Her books made reading fun, and gave us a glimpse into a world that was very different from ours. That alone justifies her immense popularity.
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
Old people let down by health services
The Age Concern report and campaign "Down, But Not Out" (15 August) highlights what is only too apparent if you work in mental health services for older people. There is very limited access to psychological therapies for depression for older people, there is over-use of medication, and lack of identification of depression, because it is written off as old age.
The launch of the Government's "Improving Access to Psychological Therapies" initiative aimed at primary care level is also not likely to lead to big improvements for older people because, being based on the Layard report, it targets working-age individuals with the aim of reducing incapacity benefit claimants.
There is a need for investment in older people at both primary and secondary care levels. Suicide is rising for older people, an indictment of a system that is failing and ageist in its approach to the mental health of old people, and ignores their often unpaid contribution to society as volunteers, carers and citizens.
Dr Chris Allen
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Maidenhead, Berkshire
Respect for animals
Primates who, among other species, grieve over their dead babies, dolphins, elephants, parrots and magpies who have the cognitive skill of self recognition (reports, 19 August). How much more evidence do we need to persuade us to stop exploiting other creatures as commodities and to start to respect them as complex sentient beings?
Arrowe Park, Wirral
Is it a coincidence that the proliferation of idiotic warnings in railway stations, airports, on toothpaste dispensers etc, noted by recent correspondents, dates roughly from the introduction of the no-win-no-fee-sue-anybody-for-anything mode of litigation? One has the perception of statutory and commercial bodies going over the top to cover their backs against ambulance-chasing lawsuits. It was predictable.
The language of Burns
Surely the remarkable thing about Jeremy Paxman's comments about Robert Burns (report, 15 August) was not what Mr Paxman said, but that they were made in a dictionary of English. Much of Burns' work was not written in English, but in Lallands, which is not a dialect but a language in its own right, although having much in common with its southern neighbour.
The Revd John Neal
Traditions of soccer
Recent complaints about "Americanised" usage of the word "soccer" are misplaced. When I was at school on Tyneside (where they know a thing or two about the game) in the Fifties and Sixties we used "soccer" and "football" interchangeably. The more bookish understood that soccer was a contraction of "Association Football". The Oxford English Dictionary confirms this derivation and gives several (English) examples. I especially like the quotation from 1924: "However any sane person could prefer soccer to cricket the good little Horace totally failed to comprehend."
The obituary for Terence Rigby (20 August) refers to his part in No Man's Land at the National Theatre. When we saw the play, Rigby (who had then been in the play for several months) forgot his lines. This being a Pinter play, we couldn't at first decide whether he really had dried, or if this was a more than usually significant pause.
Rosemary L Johnson
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