The judge in the Vicky Pryce trial felt constrained to answer the jury's question "Can you define reasonable doubt?" by answering "a doubt which is reasonable". Alas, it has become established that no explanation of "reasonable doubt" should be given to juries. Judges are required to direct juries that, before they can convict, they must be "sure" of the defendant's guilt.
It is said that "reasonable doubt" and "sure" are ordinary words which need no further exposition. I disagree. First, in the context of a criminal trial, the ambit of what is or is not a "reasonable" doubt is by no means clear.
A jury member may think that the fact that defence counsel is able to submit that something represents a doubt means that it must be reasonable. As to being "sure", does that mean being absolutely 100 per cent sure? The answer is no, but without due instruction, members of a jury may think otherwise.
Here is what an American judge is likely to tell a jury about "reasonable doubt":
"The law recognises that in dealing with human affairs, there are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty. Therefore the law does not require the People to prove a defendant guilty beyond all possible doubt ... it must be beyond reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt is an honest doubt of the defendant's guilt for which a reason exists, based on the nature and quality of the evidence. It is an actual doubt, not an imaginary doubt . It is a doubt that a reasonable person, acting in a matter of this importance, would be likely to entertain because of the evidence that was presented or because of the lack of convincing evidence."
Juries and our criminal justice system would benefit immensely were directions to be given along similar lines.
Anthony Hallgarten QC
Is it possible that questions at the Vicky Pryce trial were framed by a majority of the jurors who clearly understood their responsibilities in an effort to obtain answers that would persuade a minority who did not?
Vegans are fighting fit – not weaklings
I was disappointed you gave so much space to an article on John Nicholson's book The Meat Fix (22 February). At best, his experiences are anecdotal.
I am in my fifties and have been vegan for over 40 years. I still play football and tennis every week, and I am able to beat much younger meat-eating opponents. People often assume I am younger than I am. I have two children who play football, tennis and cricket, are in their top PE groups and play for their school teams. They are slightly above average height and of average build, and are both taller than their parents. They have been vegan since birth.
It takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1lb of meat, yet it only takes 25 gallons to produce 1lb of wheat. We live in a world of over 7 billion people where more than a billion people go to sleep every night hungry and thirsty. Meat is a selfish, inefficient way of producing food. A meat-free diet didn't do the likes of Ed Moses, Carl Lewis and Martina Navratilova any harm.
The conclusions reached in The Meat Fix are preposterous. Otherwise we'd see vegans and vegetarians crawling along the pavements, barely able to walk, on their way back from spending their benefits, because presumably they haven't the strength to work.
Halifax, West Yorkshire
John Nicholson (22 February) gives the impression that vegetarian and vegan diets are bad for your health, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Scientific studies have repeatedly linked the vegan diet to lower levels of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cholesterol and certain types of cancer. While Mr Nicholson may have had a bad experience of being vegetarian and vegan, the exact details of his diet were conspicuously absent from the article. An unbalanced diet of any kind can have adverse consequences. His is just one case and does not reflect the experiences of the majority of vegans who live healthy, active lives.
History begins with stories
Edward Pearce (Letter, 20 February) appears to be unaware that the Reformation in England came about initially because of Anne Boleyn – you can't teach one without the other. Similarly, both what happened at Stalingrad and during the English Civil War was... war. If students are to be able to interpret and interrogate the causes of war, then learning about either event would enable them to do this.
However, I would suggest that none of these topics is suitable primary school material. What's important is to choose topics that will engage students of whatever age – and the way to do this is through the story: the story of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII and their lack of a son, the appearance of Anne Boleyn, and so on. If the story engages the students, they will want to interrogate the sources and find out more. In this way, their historical skills will develop.
Let's fight a war for new energy
The energy crisis threatens because renewables are not sufficiently developed. They could be much speeded up with some real "wartime" effort.
During the Second World War, European mainland ports could be easily defended, so a portable harbour was designed and built. Plans for the Mulberry harbour, were drawn up in seven weeks.
We could do much more and quickly to develop renewable energy, obtaining energy from waste, rivers and tides, the sun and the wind, with big turbines – plus little windmills for small uses, such as street lamps, as in Switzerland.
God is no more real than fairies
Susan Rowe (Letter, 22 February) says that her position on her religious belief has been reached on the basis of "reasoned reflection on the available evidence".
I have studied religions extensively across cultures and through time, and I have yet to find in any of them any objectively verifiable evidence that would support belief in the existence of the supernatural agency that Ms Rowe would refer to as God. The Bible is no more evidence for the existence of God than the hieroglyphs on the walls of the Pyramids are evidence for the existence of Ra and Horus. Where there is no objectively verifiable evidence, the process of reasoned reflection can lead to only one inescapable conclusion.
There is no evidence for the existence of fairies at the bottom of the garden, in spite of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stated belief in the Cottingley Fairies. But that does not mean the intercession of fairies in worldly affairs should be a valid subject on the school curriculum, or a valid basis for the Government to support denominational fairy faith schools.
AC Grayling (21 February) appeals to the "clarity of reason and the innate warmth of the human heart" as bases of enlightened education. One might wonder on reading the cover of the same issue of The Independent how the innate warmth of the human heart is evidenced in the case of Oscar Pistorius, the "betrayal" of Lord Patten by his executives, and the case of Vicky Pryce and her disgraced former husband.
Grayling's appeal to the innate warmth of the human heart is his own "faith" and must be maintained in the face of evidence for its absence in the press.
Am I a mongoose or an amoeba?
The idea that the head of RBS receives millions of pounds because he does a "difficult and demanding job" (12 February) seems far-fetched.
Recently, I was told the CEO of a certain organisation receives 10 times the average salary there because of his greater work experience and knowledge.
If a person is 10 times more intelligent than his contemporaries, do the rest have the intelligence of a mongoose? And against those paid millions in salaries and bonuses, we are supposed to be as intelligent as what? An amoeba?
Only a few lambs will be affected
Schmallenberg disease has led to high losses of newborn lambs in some early-lambing flocks. While this is distressing, our understanding of how the disease works means we do not expect this to be a common occurrence in other flock types over the lambing season.
Some early lambing flocks such as those described in your article ("Lambing season left blighted by deadly virus", 19 February) have specific management practices so that their ewes will all lamb around the same point. This can make them more vulnerable to high losses if the disease infects pregnant mothers at a critical point of early pregnancy. Infection outside early pregnancy has no lasting effects on sheep or cattle, and we expect them to then develop good immunity.
The overall impact of Schmallenberg has been assessed as low across Europe. Evidence shows that infected flocks usually experience losses much closer to five per cent of newborns.
It has been reported that a submission has been made to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate by a commercial company for a vaccine licence. This process is independent from Government and it's right that time is taken over any application to ensure it is effective and safe. We hope a vaccine will be available in time for next year's breeding season.
UK Chief Veterinary Officer
If only sheep farmers weren't so hellbent on producing ever earlier "spring" lambs by putting the ewes to the ram at the height of the mosquito, tick and midge season, rather than later when the insects are gone... But why go back to the sensible old regimes of later conception and later births, when there might be yet another medical intervention which can be jabbed into these already compromised animals we turn into meat?
Roots of terror
The Birmingham terror plot has shocked every Muslim. The acts and intentions of these terrorists have nothing to do with Islam. But it is important to tackle the reasons behind extremism, including a foreign policy based on allegiance to the US and wars resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of Muslims. This has been accompanied by demonisation of Muslims by some sections of the media, in which they see their religion misrepresented without being able to get their message across.