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Tuesday 23 June 2009
Letters: No-jury trials
No-jury ruling puts right to a fair trial at risk
The Court of Appeal's decision last week to permit a serious criminal trial to be conducted without a jury should act as an urgent signal that the threat to fair trial rights has reached a new and worrying level; and requires an immediate and concerted response.
In recent years, there has been a growing use of secret evidence in a wide range of judicial hearings and a growing concern about the failure to charge and try suspected terrorists in the criminal courts in favour of taking other actions (such as deportation, control orders and "house arrest") in respect of which the courts are more ready to permit secret evidence.
The decision now to avoid a jury trial altogether was taken on information the defendants' lawyers were unable to address. It was said that there was a real and present danger that jury tampering would take place during any new trial and that the cost of safeguarding against such a risk was simply too high. The justification used to deny the preciously guarded right to trial by jury, described famously by Lord Devlin as "more than an instrument of justice and more than one wheel of the constitution: it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives", is unconvincing. For even if a judge's family could be more easily protected than the jurors or their families, the message sent to witnesses and would-be jury "nobblers" is surely that the state is incapable of providing protection to witnesses and jurors from the alleged actions of a group of suspected armed robbers.
This conclusion is difficult to accept when jury trial has survived for hundreds of years notwithstanding such concerns. The sky has not fallen in and the legal system and society have survived. The implication for even more serious trials (such as international terrorists) is huge.
Manjit Singh Gill QC
Temple, London EC4
Now for another Iraq cover-up
Bruce Anderson (opinion, 22 June) brusquely dismisses claims that the forthcoming – and private if Tony Blair has his way – Iraq inquiry will be yet another establishment cover-up as "clichetic nonsense". His confidence is based on his knowing members of the assigned team to be "intellectually rigorous" and concerned for their reputations.
"Well, precisely" the sceptic might reasonably reply. If the Government wants a fighting chance of exoneration, or at least damage-imitation, over Iraq it needs clever and esteemed men who know very well which side their bread is buttered. A bit like Lord Widgery in the original Bloody Sunday "inquiry" and Hutton on the David Kelly affair, for example.
I read Keith Gilmour's letter (18 June) with interest, agreeing with his description of Saddam Hussein's regime and the futility of the UN sanctions, but I am not sure about the threat posed by Saddam's possession of "weapons of mass destruction, which could be activated in 45 minutes".
On hearing this phrase for the first time I immediately thought what use is any weapon that takes 45 minutes to activate, and asked myself: what would have happened in the summer of 1940 if Fighter Command had taken 45 minutes to get its Spitfires and Hurricanes into the air? What would have happened at Agincourt if the English archers had taken 45 minutes to shoot their arrows?
In spite of these doubts about WMDs, I still supported the decision to invade Iraq for the reasons alluded to by Mr Gilmour. Strange as it may seem to some, I do not believe that Saddam Hussein would, if left to his own devices, have turned to stamp collecting or pressing wild flowers.
I suspect that if the inquiry does not produce the outcomes required by the left-wing middle class (including The Independent) and the BBC (permanently stuck in Gilligan's Revenge mode), there will be further demands from these people and others for further inquiries until they get the outcome they want.
J R Tardif
The ecology of meat-free days
The organic farmers Aidan Harrison and A Reid (letters, 16 and 20 June) miss the point about about Paul McCartney and friends' call for meat-free days. The UK has long been a net importer of food plus animal feed, contributing to our ecological deficit, which gives us a high per capita responsibility for hunger and deforestation elsewhere in the world, so we have to work out a less resource-heavy yet compassionate way of living.
A Reid gives advice to cut our carbon footprint: "Eat only what is in season and only what is produced in Britain or in northern Europe." But I'll bet that soya shipped from the US or lentils from Turkey have a far smaller ecological footprint than most equivalent, land-hungry, animal protein. Reid also cites animal manure as a source of fertiliser, but its nutrients all have to derive from plants.
If you do consume dairy products, however, then there are strong animal welfare reasons to choose organic (Soil Association standard). That in turn will reward Harrison and Reid, maintaining the best of the British countryside.
Hear hear to Mr Harrison on his organic farm in Northumberland . I found the farce of these "celebs" jetting in from around the world as distasteful as their vegan food.
Our organic livestock farmers like Mr Harrison should be praised for the work they are doing in making sure our countryside is both protected and productive. These global "celebs" should look at themselves and reduce their own high-carbon-footprint lifestyles instead of delivering mixed messages to a public who are confused about the causes of climate change.
West Malling, Kent
I read of the clash over the gas-guzzling celebrities and those advocating less environmentally damaging diets with diplomatic concern.
The clear compromise between the two views would be to eat locally produced meat once a week only. That would lead to better quality meat, vastly reduced damage from felling of forests, far less cruelty experienced by factory-farmed animals, and more local employment on farms producing more quality vegetables for human rather that cattle consumption.
While it is true that if there were more vegetarians the world would be a much better place – with better environments, far more wildlife and better prospects for the future – surely having meat (loved by multinationals with a eye on profit) as well as international travel (loved by celebrities with an eye on exposure) as luxuries rather than staples would suit us all.
Dr Colin Bannon
I'd like to express how good an idea meat-free Mondays is. The environment benefits from this and so do a lot of animals. The less we contribute to global warming the better. People's health would benefit from going vegetarian too.
Voting to pick the best way to vote
John Harris (Letters, 16 June) asks whether a referendum of three electoral alternatives would be run according to the first-past-the-post or alternative vote methods.
The problem was solved quite elegantly by the New Zealand authorities, who organised a popular consultation on voting reform in 1992. They established a commission which drew up a shortlist of five electoral systems, then held a multi-option ballot. The votes were counted using a variation of a two-round system; in the second round, a majority vote took place between the winner of the first round and the status quo.
We could do a great deal worse than follow this method.
No heavies at UK borders
While I do not condone scowling expressions or incivility from UK Border Agency staff, a few facts need to be aired in response to Andrew Bennett's letter (18 June).
The mechanical checks are done, inter alia, to help identify forged and counterfeit travel documents. Is this not a useful function?
The besuited "heavies" are neither heavies nor UK Border Agency officers; UKBA officers are now always in uniform and the men in suits are almost certainly police officers in civvies.
Unlike their Dutch counterparts, UKBA officers are not armed and this, presumably, is why the Dutch have no need of "bouncers to protect them".
Having said all of this, I do agree that the words "please" and "thank you" would not be amiss on some of the signage in UK immigration halls. Finally, for the sake of balance, perhaps a reader or two would like to tell us of positive dealings they have had with the UK Border Agency.
The writer is an officer of the UK Border Agency
My husband and I often count the number of warning notices we see while waiting to go through the British border controls, many of which threaten prosecution. We cringe at the unwelcoming message it gives, not only to visitors, but also to UK residents returning to this country.
Can I suggest that people manning the UK Border control desks adopt the attitude of the border police in my home country, Denmark? When I present my Danish passport on arrival in Denmark I am invariably met with the greeting "Velkommen hjem" – Welcome home. What a great feeling that gives me.
Sudden, shocking decline of swifts
Since moving to the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne nine years ago, I have watched the summer months bring swifts, swallows and house martins in flocks of between 20 and 50, swooping and soaring in the skies from dawn till dusk. On Sunday I saw three swifts and two house martins.
Your report "Major drop in migrating swifts" (22 June) put the disappearance of the swifts down to the loss of nesting sites. While we in this area have lost nesting sites over the years, we still have many, and the ones that have disappeared haven't done so in the last 12 months.
The suddenness of the decline is frightening. Just what is happening?
Newcastle upon Tyne
Dorothy King states that had Elgin not brought the Parthenon marbles to London "they would no longer exist" ("Should the Elgin Marbles be returned to Greece?" 20 June). If she is right, then why can the Government not suggest to the Greeks that if they wrote a letter thanking us for keeping these historic reliefs safe all this time they could now have them back? What a wonderful foreign relations gesture that would be.
Broadband for all
Margaret Sankey (Letters, 20 June) asks why elderly people should contribute towards broadband facilities (as recommended in the Digital Britain report). The answer is the same if you ask why they should contribute towards schools: it benefits our economy, and therefore the country, as a whole. The elderly obviously don't directly benefit from spending on our schools, but they do benefit from Britain's workforce being able to compete in the global economy, bringing foreign money into this country. It is that money that pays for the pensions of the elderly.
No laughing matter
My wife and I are in full agreement with previous correspondents about the problems of foreground/background music in films and TV programmes. We have lost count of the number of films we have turned off because we could not hear the dialogue. I would suggest adding the abolition of "canned laughter", which ruins most TV comedy programmes. I cannot believe that there is a mobile auditorium which navigates the lanes of Holmfirth.
Pull your socks up
The exhortation "pull your socks up" was not confined to sufferers of depression (Leading article, 16 June). It was in my youth the standard parental response to scholastic failings, doubtless inspired by the often sagging knee-length "Just William" stockings then worn to school. It was certainly my father's routine response to unsatisfactory school reports, nor did the rare academic success preclude it. He greeted the news of my acceptance for medical school entry with the observation. "Well lad, you'll really have to pull your socks up now!"
Dr Bob Heys
Ripponden, West Yorkshire
What will happen to the Greenwich Time Signal when analogue radio is switched off? It has concerned me that the digital version of the time signal is meaningless as there is a variable delay between broadcast and local receiving. Will it disappear totally ?
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
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