Sunday 8 December 2019

Letters: Pistorius verdict shouldn't obscure problems of jury system

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock on the third day of his trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock on the third day of his trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

The acquittal of Oscar Pistorius on the charge of premeditated murder raises significant issues about the relationship between the judgements of juries and those of experienced judges.

The conclusions of Thokozile Masipa, the judge in the Pistorious case, have been widely criticised. It has been claimed that justice has not been served, as the judge's conclusions were based on technical legal issues and not driven by where the evidence obviously pointed. It has been assumed by many that trial by jury would have produced a different verdict, basing judgement on the deliverances of common sense, reaching conclusions that any reasonable person would supposedly reach.

The unwarranted assumption here is that ordinary people chosen at random and applying their common sense can arrive at a fair and reasonable verdict based on the evidence and that they are capable of reaching a verdict beyond reasonable doubt and without prejudice.

The notion of common sense is based on the view that in the ordinary course of life we do not have time to engage in lengthy analysis in making decisions. The over-analysed life is unliveable.

However, common sense can easily degenerate into common nonsense. It is not an alternative way of knowing distinct from the exercise of intelligence.

Trial by jury tends to focus on persuading 12 people to reach a certain conclusion. This is intensified by the introduction of victim statements, assuming that the cold rationality of the courts needs to be supplemented by raw expressions of feeling.

The jury trials of the Birmingham Six, Judith Ward, the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven - all wrongly convicted - should have sent a warning sign to all involved in shaping our system of law. These miscarriages of justice were overturned, not by a jury, but by the cold exercise of the law.

Admittedly, there are real moral issues about inequality of access to the law, mostly as a result of the variability in the quality of representation in the courts. It is often said that the wealthy can buy their way out of trouble.

Philip O'Neill, Oxford, England

 

Home Rule @ 100

I was very glad to see your "Home Rule @ 100" supplement (September 13), and that a long-forgotten John Redmond is at last receiving the attention he deserves. I was, however, puzzled by the choice of "The 10 main Home Rule Players". While Parnell (First Home Rule Bill, 1886) and Redmond (Third Home Rule Bill, 1912-14) obviously deserve to be listed, the absence of Justin McCarthy (Second Home Rule Bill, 1893) is baffling.

Overshadowed by Parnell before him and the 1916 rebels four years after his death, McCarthy's significant contribution to the Home Rule cause has been largely overlooked.

McCarthy's conciliatory chairmanship of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1890-96) ensured that the Party did not subdivide further after the Parnell split. McCarthy maintained the vital Irish Party alliance with Gladstone's Liberals. After the 1892 general election, McCarthy and his 71 Irish Party MP colleagues, acting in unison, made it possible for Gladstone to have his Second Home Rule Bill passed by the House of Commons in 1893. Had that Bill not been passed by the Commons that year, it is unlikely that the Liberals would ever have returned to the issue again.

McCarthy is the critical link between the 1886 and 1912-14 Home Rule Bills. He therefore deserves to be included in any list of "Top 10 Home Rulers".

Eugene J Doyle, Dundrum, Dublin 14

Your otherwise excellent supplement on "Home Rule @ 100" was marred by the repeated use of "Kitty" in relation to Mrs O'Shea, lover and later wife of Charles Stewart Parnell.

She was, in fact, generally known as "Katie" - though she preferred to be called Katherine. "Kitty" was Victorian slang for a prostitute and it was first applied to Mrs O'Shea by the egregious Tim Healy, and it stuck. It was singularly inappropriate given her essentially uxorious relationship with Parnell.

Felix M Larkin, Academic Director, Parnell Summer School, Cabinteely, Dublin 18

 

Yes in Scotland? Don't bet on it

Contrary to the mass media coverage that the referendum in Scotland can go "either way", please permit me to make the following prediction: The possibility of the "Yes" side winning the Scottish referendum on independence is as remote as me winning the Irish Lotto and the Euro Millions this week.

Vincent J Lavery, Dalkey, Co Dublin

 

Taking the Lord's name in vain

Please allow me the chance to appeal to all who write for your newspaper to refrain from using the name of Jesus as an expletive, or for colourful emphasis or simply to gain attention.

It is a holy name and the name of the beloved Son of God. The principle, common to all of us, of wishing to protect our good name, holds good in this case also, I believe. Thank you.

Fr Freddy Warner, Portumna, Co Galway

 

All that I can't leave behind

I have nurtured my iTunes music library over recent years.

Apple have greatly disturbed this library by dumping a new U2 album into it. I neither asked for nor wanted this mediocrity. This is a gross invasion of privacy by a band and company who seek to impose their selective tastes on the general public.

K Nolan, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim

 

Behind the Middle East chaos

Everyone is rightly saddened by the death of David Haines, the British aid worker who was recently butchered. This was a horrific act. We must see the complete picture in this disastrous situation.

Britain and the US invaded Iraq, based on a pack of lies, 11 years ago. They are also still fighting in Afghanistan for some reason. In those two countries combined, around a million people have been killed by Western forces. Then you had Libya, where around another 30,000 people were killed, in addition to the destruction caused. Huge amounts of weaponry have also been sold to that region. The result - chaos.

In order to gain control of the Middle East, and it's resources, much of the Muslim world has been trashed. And, if that wasn't enough, we've seen the UK and US back Israel's recent raid, which killed another 2,100 Muslims in Gaza.

Let's be clear, I am in no way justifying what Isil/Islamic State are doing. This is no excuse for their barbarity, but the totality of the breakdown in the Middle East has to be examined in order to be addressed.

Name and address with editor

 

Remembering Anne Devlin

This Thursday marks the anniversary of the death of Anne Devlin, the faithful friend of Robert Emmet. She suffered severely at the hands of cruel crown agents.

Anne Devlin's headstone at Glasnevin tells of her many noble qualities and how she lived and died in "obscurity and poverty".

Remember her with pride.

J A Barnwell, Dublin 9

Irish Independent

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