Another US mishap with the UN yesterday was the delivery of a letter to SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan informing him that America might find that our selfdefence requires further action with respect to other organisations and other states. It does not require much diplomatic decoding to understand that this is a reference to Iraq.
The rightwing press in the United States at the moment is full of exhortations to George W Bush to finish the job left unfinished by George Bush ten years ago. It was therefore encouraging to learn that Jack Straw, Britain's Foreign Secretary, told EU foreign ministers yesterday that the agreement at the moment is that the attacks are confined to Afghanistan.
This military coalition is about action in respect of military and terrorist targets in Afghanistan. Hopefully this statement was made with the knowledge and approval of Tony Blair.
Keep the jury sistem
I is difficult for anything other than the war to get much media attention at the moment but there are other things going on that deserve attention. At a different time Lord Justice Auld's massive report on the reform of Britain's criminal courts, which was delivered yesterday, would probably have received frontpage attention if only because it adds his support to the government's wish to limit the use of the jury system. The report makes some 300 recommendations on the way the courts are run; most of them are uncontentious, for instance the creation of a new middletier of courts in which magistrates would sit with a judge in cases where any sentence is likely to be less than two years.
However, Lord Auld's preference for removing a defendant's right to opt for jury trial in many types of cases will be widely criticised. Although there are often times when a jury's decision is difficult to understand, the fact remains that judgement by an accused's fellow citizens is probably the fairest form of justice that can be devised. Lord Auld is right, though, to insist that fewer people among the professions should be able to get exemption from jury service; at the moment two out of every three people called find it possible to be excused.
The governmnet failed to get parliamentary approval for changes in the jury system when it brought them forward last year. It should not try again, even with Lord Justice Auld's backing.
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