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Thursday 21 February 2013
Letters: The verdict - we need better jurors
In the Vicky Pryce trial the jury took 14 hours to come up with a list of 10 questions which only served to demonstrate their lack of understanding of the principle of the jury and their role in considering evidence.
Were they fit to be jurors? Is the system lacking in allowing jurors to be appointed if they don't have the basic understanding of their duty? This was not a complex trial. How can we ensure that the 12 people are competent to decide on the guilt or innocence of a fellow citizen?
One of the problems in selecting a jury is that there are all sorts of exclusions, including age. I would not consider my two brothers, both over 70, incapable of intelligent thought. If people over 70 were allowed to serve, these jurors would have the time and more experience of life. We are all living longer and the Government is putting up the retirement age. I suggest there should be an actual preference for those who have retired from full-time work.
A stricter line on people claiming exclusion because of work commitments would also be sensible. The 12 good men and true was a concept that has roots in Anglo-Saxon times. I'm not sure if the local lord in those days would have allowed all sorts of excuses to get off from attending.
We need the best-quality jurors – so that we can have fair trials and so that we can avoid the tremendous waste of time and money caused in the Vicky Pryce case.
Victor S Ient
Lewes, East Sussex
The defence of "marital coercion" is an interesting one. It is not available to men or to partners in same-sex relationships. Those of us who believe in equality before the law expect a level playing field. Should the law be changed to allow its use by all marital partners, or should it simply be abolished?
Ministers failed to act on energy crisis warnings
Your headline "Britain warned to prepare for an energy dark age" (20 February) gave me a déjà vu moment. People in the power industry have known for 25 years that we would face an electrical power shortage starting in 2015.
That long ago, the UK was negotiating the Large Combustion Plant Directive with fellow members of the EU. With that signed, it was inevitable that a large number of coal-fired plants would be unable to satisfy the directive and would close down, around 2015. At the same time, the majority of our nuclear power stations, which have already had their lives extended, would also be on the closure list.
Every senior person I met in the power industry in the UK had given up trying to point out to ministers that power stations can't be built by Friday week and some long-term plans needed to be implemented.
Isle of Mull
When the electricity industry was privatised, the then Government explicitly regarded the obligation of the Central Electricity Generating Board to secure the supply of electricity as something that could be dispensed with, as the market would provide. My advice at the time was do not buy shares in the electricity industry but invest in a stand-by generator for when the supply fails.
Dr D W Budworth
The Independent had much to say about the imminent shutdown of much of the UK's coal generation plant (20 February) but nothing to say about the risks of relying on wind power.
Eight gigawatts of coal-fired generation will be shut down shortly but on Monday and Tuesday we were deprived of more than 8GW of wind capacity because of the lack of wind. Since this is not uncommon and the Government is committed to boosting the proportion of wind generating capacity, this is a problem that can only get worse.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
The arms trade and Sri Lanka
I was disappointed to read the article "Revealed: UK sells arms to Sri Lanka's brutal regime" (18 February), which misrepresented the UK's export control policy towards Sri Lanka.
The article suggested the UK had changed its policy towards Sri Lanka and was focused on selling more arms to the Sri Lankan military. This is not the case and the facts speak for themselves. During the period your article covered, only two licences were approved for the Sri Lankan military. One related to shotgun cartridges for sporting use and the other communications equipment for a transport aircraft.
The UK operates one of the most rigorous arms export control systems in the world. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are mandatory, and we will not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.
The small arms to which your article refers were for export to private maritime security companies engaged in legitimate work countering the threat of piracy, and not the Sri Lankan navy. Export licence applications for this equipment were considered thoroughly and licences only approved when certain conditions were met. Security companies, for example, must be signed up to the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers; equipment may only be used by personnel of the named security company; and restrictions on the number and storage of firearms must be observed.
Alistair Burt MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London SW1
Poor advert for capitalism
Ian Birrell ("More capitalism, not less of it, is the answer", 20 February), what planet are you on? Why on earth would anyone want to be in our position?
The Independent's front page on the same day warned of an "energy dark age". We have an ageing population with pensioners seen as economic liabilities. We are cutting back and selling off public land and buildings. The NHS is being dismantled and will eventually be paralysed with the debt of PFI deals. Energy shortages, pension liabilities and failing health services are all ticking time bombs.
Capitalism is inherently corrupt. I hope the "developing" nations learn from us and do things differently.
Great Harwood, Lancashire
I am fascinated by the new type of capitalism used by organisations such as the utilities and railways.
The normal system of capitalism is for companies to raise capital from shareholders and banks, invest this to create a product or service and then charge customers at a level they are prepared to pay to reward the investors for providing new products or improved services.
Now organisations are forcing customers to pay more for the same tired services and products so the shareholders can be rewarded for providing them without the handicap of having to raise more investment. For these extra prices customers are promised possible improvements some time in the future.
This is such a difference from real capitalism that it requires a new name. Perhaps "fraud" will suffice.
Cameron missed Mantel's point
The alacrity with which the Prime Minister attacked Hilary Mantel for her critique of how royal princesses are treated by the British media raises causes for concern.
Had Mr Cameron read the speech or just been shown selected quotes? Who advised him? If they had read and understood it, they obviously considered support for the Daily Mail and the approval of its readers more important than the facts. Maybe he had just been shown the Mail and felt that, with a by-election pending, it was an opportunity too good to miss.
It does not take a great deal of intelligence to realise that the Mail's cynical attack was not the result of any criticism of the Duchess of Cambridge but because Hilary Mantel was drawing attention to the appalling way that much of the media behaves.
Whether Mr Cameron was guided by incompetent or scheming advisers, or just trying to make political capital is immaterial. We should be able to expect statements from our political leaders to be well considered, not kneejerk reactions, and based on fact, not quotes out of context.
Lower Quinton, Warwickshire
Not all religious faith is blind
AC Grayling ("Ancient ignorance has no place in education", 21 February) is rightly concerned about faith as blind assent to a creed. He should be encouraged to hear that, for many of us who are religious adherents, our position has been reached on the basis of reasoned reflection on the available evidence and our own experience.
Teaching about religion is important, as he says, but teaching which emphasises the weaknesses and conflicts within religion without any consideration of the powerful spiritual experiences which lead people to it is as damaging as the forms of religion he opposes. A more nuanced debate would be much more helpful for everyone.
A simple case
Whether the police version of events adds up or not is irrelevant, and we can simply go on what Oscar Pistorius says. He heard somebody moving in the bathroom and, without issuing a challenge or a warning shot, he fired at them. And who the victim was has no bearing on this case: whether it was a perceived burglar or his girlfriend is irrelevant. Given the well-known effects on the human body of bullets fired from a gun, how can this be painted as anything other than murder?
Sport England has just announced that it is handing out its largest-ever subsidy to angling, £1.8m. It wants to encourage more anglers and get them to fish more often. It also wants to establish a national competition structure. Part of Sport England's money comes from the National Lottery, and its other source is the Treasury. In times of national austerity, it is a scandal that taxpayers are stumping up for what Lord Byron said was "the cruellest, the coldest and the stupidest of pretended sports".
To give or to gift?
You report (20 February) on Sir Denis Mahon's generous bequest, whereby his collection of Italian Baroque paintings is being "gifted" to various museums and galleries across the country. We must hope that proper precautions are taken, so that none of them is subsequently "thefted".
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