Not such a bad year for justice

Bob Woffinden is a journalist who is entitled to great respect. It is not hard to find victims of grave miscarriages of British justice in recent decades. Many of those victims, perhaps even most, have cause to thank Woffinden for his principled and diligent work on their behalf. Sadly, however, on the most recent evidence ("The blackest year for British law", 6 November) he appears to be losing his edge.

Of course the abolition of the right to silence is unfair. Of course the main underlying imperative of our criminal justice system ought to be to avoid convicting the innocent. And, more specifically, the Michael Stone verdict ought indeed to make us uneasy. But "grave concerns about the evidence", expressed by Miles Evans' own solicitor, do not a miscarriage of justice make. Nor does Woffinden's own view that Sion Jenkins is "plainly innocent", especially when the best point Woffinden seems to be able to make against the jury's verdict is that they were shown a video of Jenkins' step-daughter's body, with a cut to her photograph as it ended. I suspect that the likes of Colin Stagg might have something to say about Woffinden's claim that judges are afraid of acquitting high-profile defendants at the close of a weak prosecution case.

So: 1998 the blackest year ever? Frankly, Bob, it just won't wash.

Joel Donovan
London SW15

Bob Woffinden, writing about the case of Michael Stone, talks of "the abolition of the right to silence". He well knows that the statute in question (the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) did not abolish "the right to silence". It abolished the automatic right of a defendant who fails to give evidence to have the judge direct the jury not to draw any adverse inferences from that failure. In many cases, perhaps, it comes to the same thing. But not in a case like Stone's in which, as Woffinden himself says, "the judge specifically told the jury that they were to infer nothing from [Stone's silence]".

This lapse of analysis does Woffinden no credit. Indeed, his definition of "an unsafe conviction" seems to be "a conviction I wouldn't have voted for if I had been on the jury". It follows that the only system that would satisfy him is one in which the guilt or innocence of every defendant was decided by Bob Woffinden.

Godfrey Lyne
London N14

This article first appeared in the 13 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Why gays become politicians