On judging the judges
Sir: The spectacle of judges questioning essentially political decisions is not an edifying one. But we should be slow to dismiss the importance of the role of judicial review. Dr Ekins is justifiably troubled by the escalation of appeals to the Supreme Court in politically sensitive terrain. (‘Judgment day: the danger of courts taking over politics’, 21 September), but there are a number of positive features of this always contentious activity.
First, it is the proper responsibility of the judiciary to determine the moral principles which underpin our law and to apply them as they do the law itself. Secondly, judicial review is a powerful check on the tyranny of the majority. And thirdly, it is fundamental to the protection of individual rights and the defence of the integrity of our law and legal system.
Of course, while parliament enjoys democratic legitimacy, unelected judges do not. Nevertheless, once a matter is recognised as constitutional, and hence ultimately to be resolved by judges invoking general constitutional principles, it is likely to enhance the character of public debate. Moreover, as the attraction to ordinary people of the live television transmission illustrates, the community can profitably be engaged in a matter that affects us all.
Happily, our Supreme Court lacks the power of its American counterpart to strike down legislation, but I had hoped that in deciding this appeal it would shrink from encroaching on matters that are the preserve of the executive. Yet we should not allow our disquiet about its intervention in this particular case to demean its constructive role in our democracy.
Professor Raymond Wacks
Emeritus Professor of law and legal theory, Stamford, Lincs
Blame the cannabis lobby
Sir: Mary Wakefield (‘Have you heard the screaming in the street?’, 21 September) recalls, as a child, being reassured by adults about crazy street behaviour with the words ‘Don’t worry, he’s just a junkie’. Being quite a bit older than Mary Wakefield, I have no such recollection. We had no junkies, and there was very little screaming in the street. This is because I grew up before the great, greedy campaign, begun in 1967, to weaken and ultimately abolish the laws against drug possession. If she really wants to know why street behaviour is getting so much worse in her bit of London, she should recall her own article of last January in which she wrote: ‘Weed is everywhere. I’m sure of this, because the smell of the city has changed.’ And so it has. This is the long-term effect of Lady Runciman’s report of March 2000 and the Metropolitan Police’s Brixton experiments soon afterwards, which were followed by the police more or less abandoning the enforcement of the law against marijuana possession, as they now have. This was a grave mistake. The correlation between marijuana use and mental illness, already tragically evident to many British parents, was shown above all by the 1987 Swedish Army Survey (Cannabis and schizophrenia. A longitudinal study of Swedish conscripts). It is not too late to learn from this. But unless the London media and political elite very quickly grasp the danger of what is going on, and that it is not an accident but the outcome of decades of well-funded and skilful lobbying, we may all expect much worse in future.
Brits were not bystanders
Sir: Charles Moore (Notes, 21 September) is quite correct to draw our attention to the fact that other countries suffered worse horrors in the war than we did. Though I was bombed out three times in Birmingham, I have always reminded people that other nations, especially Germany, suffered far more bombing than we endured in the Blitz. But it is not fair to call us ‘bystanders’. We can take pride in our army, navy and air force, who played a leading part in the defeat of Germany.
What is the EU?
Sir: Last week Vuyelwa Carlin declared that parliament has the right to ignore the result of the referendum and unilaterally cancel Brexit. One of the reasons presented in justification of this is that apparently the most-Googled question the day after the vote was ‘What is the EU?’
That was and remains a very good question and I suspect, three years down the line, there are many who would still like a truthful answer.
A measure of distance
Sir: While loth to start a one-man pedant’s revolt, I must point out that Jason Burke, in his review of Justin Marozzi’s new book (21 September), is guilty of a solecism which frequently escapes censure in lesser periodicals. A light year is not a measure of time. It is a measure of distance. It is the distance light travels in a year.
The reader next door
Sir: In July, I responded to Sahil Mahtani’s article ‘Why Anglo-Saxons deserve reparations for the Norman Conquest’. I recall the morning when I read the letters page. Although there was a letter responding to the article (and of a similar sentiment) the text was different. Reading the village name — Shrivenham (pop. 2,400) — in the signature, I assumed an editorial mistake must have been made. However, it transpired that it was, in fact, correct, and the correspondent is (literally) a next-door neighbour. I wonder, with your readership, what the odds are on that happening?