Young people turning to drugs and drink, Time limits for trials with juries and others

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The Independent Online

Is it any wonder that young people turn to drugs and drink?

Is it any wonder that young people turn to drugs and drink?

Sir: I applaud Johann Hari ("Addicted to foolish legislation on drugs", 23 March) for his cogent reasoning that all drugs be legalised and state controlled, and I wholeheartedly concur, even though I have never taken a class A drug myself.

But what strikes me about debates on this issue, along with those about binge drinking, is that no one asks why anyone takes hard drugs, or why so many young people drink such vast quantities of alcohol.

I believe it's insecurity; not merely a fear of failure, but a profound sense of foreboding and helplessness. Nowadays very few on leaving full-time education can be confident of finding employment or a solid niche in society, simply because the exponential rate of technological change renders long-term career ambitions untenable. Young people also share with their elders an anxiety about our inability to control, or even understand, the things that have the most influence on our lives, such as the imminent ruination of Earth's biosphere, if they believe what they read in The Independent. Thus, with no politician seemingly capable of looking further than the next election, it is no wonder so many of us become existential hedonists. Cheers - and make mine a double.


Sir: We need to move on from arguments of "prohibition" vs "legalisation" and get down to the practical business of looking at viable options for drug control.

DrugScope too supports the expansion of heroin prescribing and would like to see the piloting of drug consumption rooms. We are passionate about drug treatment and about addressing the wider social causes and contexts of hard drug use. We believe that too many otherwise law-abiding people are criminalised by our current drug laws.

We do not, however, support legalisation because we do not believe that powerful psycho-active and narcotic substances like LSD, cocaine and heroin should ever be treated as consumer commodities. It is unclear under what circumstances a doctor or a pharmacist would consider it appropriate to supply someone with LSD or ecstasy, for example. Legalisers make some telling points about the failures of current policy, but these are widely shared by drug policy specialists across the spectrum. They remain curiously vague and non-committal about the details of their own preferred options for control.

Head of Policy
London SE1

Time limits needed for trials with juries

Sir: At the heart of any fraud trial is an accusation of dishonesty. A jury is eminently able to decide such an issue. ("Jubilee line £60m fraud case collapses", 23 March).

But the presence of a jury necessarily requires a degree of brevity. Only in the most exceptional of cases should a jury be required to sit for more than six months. Two years is far too long. The answer lies in much better management by all parties. Ironically, a new Protocol on dealing with large cases was issued on the day the Jubilee trial broke down.

Judges need to take much more control of cases and move to a more active case management role, as has happened for many years in the United States. The new Protocol and Criminal Procedure Rules should allow this. The issue must be how to make juries work properly, not how to get rid of them.

President, Law Society
London WC2

Director, Justice
London EC4

Sir: The Government has been keen for some time to abolish the automatic right to trial by jury in serious and complex cases, such as the Jubilee line case, but this provision has yet to be enacted following opposition in the House of Lords.

It is often said that jurors have difficulty in understanding complex cases, but there is very little evidential support for this: in the 10-month long Wickes case, the judge told the jury: "Those who may hereafter criticise juries' appreciation of lengthy and complex fraud cases would have done well to see the care and attention that ... you have given to this case throughout".

One difficulty in this debate is the lack of research into the effectiveness of juries in complex cases. In order to be valuable such research would have to consider jury deliberations and this is at present precluded by section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. In January the Government issued a consultation paper to address this issue and the consultation process is due to be completed by 15 April 2005.

Furthermore new measures are now being implemented to tackle case management in such cases. The Lord Chief Justice recently issued a new Protocol for the control and management of heavy fraud and other complex criminal cases. It places great emphasis on the role of the trial judge and the need for him to exercise strong case-management skills. It further proposes that the judge should use his residual powers to ensure that all non-contentious issues are agreed well in advance, so only the contentious issues are litigated. These sensible measures should be given time to work before any further steps are taken to erode the defendant's right to trial by jury.

Partner, Peter and Peters
London W1

Sir: It is in lawyers' interests to drag out fraud cases and earn more and more fees. Since neither the length of trial nor hearing all the evidence guarantee a just result, why not set a fixed fee before trial; it might focus everyone's minds on getting a quick outcome and waste less taxpayers' money.


Sir: I see another major fraud trial has been abandoned after two years and many millions of pounds spent. Two questions: what had the jurors done to deserve this punishment, and in what way does this not bring the law into disrepute?


Benefits of GM crops

Sir: Your front page article, "The end for GM crops" (22 March), shamelessly exploits and reinforces the public's misunderstandings both about GM crops in particular, and about the nature of scientific investigation in general.

What this field trial apparently showed is that one specific GM crop has environmental disadvantages because the herbicide kills flowers eaten by birds. Fine. If subsequent studies confirm this finding, let us avoid planting this particular crop.

But the study shows nothing whatsoever about other GM crops - for instance, Bt cotton, which is designed to radically reduce the need for pesticides.

With equal "logic", you could have published 45 years ago a headline, "The end for artificial medicines" because Thalidomide turned out to be dangerous.

Professor ALAN SOKAL
University College London
London WC1

Sir: Your report on recent GM crop trials was undisguised propaganda for the eco-fundamentalists who oppose all forms of crop biotechnology.

All farmers, even organic ones, aim to control the weeds in their crops to the level that yields are not affected. The trials you report merely show that with three of the four GM crop varieties tested this was done marginally more effectively than with selective herbicides used on conventional varieties of the same crops. It would be simple, if a larger weed population is desired, to achieve this with these GM varieties by leaving strips unsprayed.

Another vital point missed from your report is that the GM varieties tested are resistant to just one type of broad-spectrum herbicide (one that is particularly benign as far as food and soil residues are concerned). There are many other types of GM crops, and each one needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Only this way can we gain the immense benefits this biotechnology offers while ensuring any environmental impact is acceptable.

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

Sir: Your coverage of the crop trials stated that critics portrayed our 2003 study of genetically modified herbicide tolerant maize as "flawed". This is wrong, and crucially ignores our subsequent published analysis in Nature in 2004 which demonstrated clearly that GMHT maize remains relatively beneficial to wildlife.

It is misleading to be so selective about the science that you report. What the farm scale evaluations showed most clearly was that the effects were due to the herbicide management, not the genetic modification per se. It might be, once issues of coexistence are resolved, that Monday marked not "the end for GM crops", but the end of a troubled beginning.

Professor JOE N PERRY
Rothamsted Research
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Wolfowitz disaster

Sir: Bruce Anderson's reasons for welcoming the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz as President of the World Bank ("The world's poor can rejoice at this news", 21 March) are in fact precisely those which make it disastrous; ie his wish to give the whole world the opportunities open to Americans for economic advancement.

If he means that an overpopulated world can possibly sustain an American standard of living for all, he is clearly as mistaken in his good intentions as he has been in what most of us see as his bad ones; the imposition by force or fraud of an American hegemony giving his country priority access to dwindling resources.

If, on the other hand, he is talking only about so-called equality of opportunity, what he proposes is, up to a point, happening now: it is already possible to become a millionaire in China, India, South America and even Africa; but at the expense of the poor and the liberties of the productive middle classes. He may be a clever and even decent man but as an international bureaucrat he is clearly unacceptable.

Professor JOHN A DAVIS

China still a danger

Sir: Lifting the EU arms embargo on China so soon after the passage of China's new "anti-separation" law would send a dangerous signal ("UK blocks attempt to lift China arms ban'", 23 March). The legislation, calling for "non-peaceful means" to be taken against Taiwan should it move towards formalising its de facto independence, is a reminder that China has not made enough progress in the areas of human rights and peaceful diplomacy to warrant lifting the ban.

Added to 700 missiles already targeting Taiwan, regular war games simulating the invasion of Taiwan and a defence spending increase of 12.6 per cent this year, the new law has only stoked regional tensions. Japan recently identified China as a potential security threat for the first time since the Second World War and identified Taiwan as a mutual security concern with the US shortly before the law was enacted by China's "parliament".

It is encouraging that the UK wants the lifting of the arms ban to be delayed. Instead of rushing to lift the ban for short-term economic reasons, the EU should utilise this period to engage China over human rights and democracy.

Director, Taipei Representative Office in the UK
London SW1

Gays should be wary

Sir: Like Ford Hickson (letter, 24 March) I am wary of the Government's slipperiness on the issue of gay law reform. Despite Mr Blair's supposed pride at the ending of the ban on gays in the military, his government spent its first two years fighting tooth and nail to retain this ban through the European Court of Human Rights. It was only when the court found against them that they had a change of heart. On this as much else, you can trust Tony Blair as far as you can throw him.


Iraq advice

Sir: The headline on Nigel Morris's article (22 March) that "Lawyer was paid £50,000 to give advice on Iraq invasion" is incorrect and misleading. As I said in my parliamentary answer to Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer on 21 March 2005, Professor Greenwood was not instructed to advise on whether military conflict would be lawful. He was retained to assist in relation to legal issues arising from the conflict and its aftermath.

Attorney General
London SW1

Da Vinci warning

Sir: Miles Kington's wife is right to forbid him from reading The Da Vinci Code ("Is the Bible really the 'Wisden' of religion?" 23 March). I shied when I read in it that the Jardins du Tuileries were "the equivalent of New York's Central Park". Snobbishly, I do not want to read books written for a geographically challenged readership. I stopped when I read that the Eiffel Tower was a Parisian phallic symbol. As every Terry Pratchett fan knows, it is an ashtray designed by Bloody Stupid Johnson, the designer who didn't understand scale.

Windsor, Berkshire

Religious speech

Sir: Philip Hensher is yet another columnist ranting about the wrongs of clergymen interfering in political issues ("Politicians should not listen to religious leaders", 23 March). What are these people worried about? It is a simple fact that people with faith will probably disagree with him, whilst those without will agree.

It would be interesting to hear his views on whether the Reverends Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu should have remained silent on political issues in their two countries.


War poet wanted

Sir: Could anybody (perhaps the Poet Laureate) help me with a limerick that begins "We went to war on a page of A4"?

London NW3