Sir, Your report (Mar 30) correctly refers to the problem caused by judges being required to retire at 70, creating a “recruitment crisis”.
The result is that our finest judges, such as Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, are compelled to retire, instead of continuing to give valuable additional service. The decision to reduce the retirement age from 75 to 70 was a mistake, as even the lord chancellor of that time now accepts. There were no problems of recruitment then, and the hope that the change might increase diversity has not happened.
We must not be indifferent about the quality of our judiciary. Action that can be taken to deal with the situation must be taken. Apparently the lord chancellor’s response is the situation “should be considered in due course”. This reinforces the impression being given to the judiciary that their needs are being ignored. The lord chancellor should demonstrate that she does care and will improve the situation as soon as possible before irreparable damage is done to the reputation of our judiciary.
Lord chief justice 2000-05
Sir, When the retirement age of judges was reduced to 70 in 1992, the conditions were very different from today, and I felt that the system — which required the lord chancellor to speak to any judge who was in failing health and ask him or her to retire — was not compatible with judicial independence. The present situation, where judicial conditions have produced a severe shortage of suitable candidates, makes it imperative to move the retirement age of judges to 75; people are now enjoying better mental and physical health later in life.
Lord Irvine of Lairg and I pressed Kenneth Clarke, when he was lord chancellor, to raise the retirement age of Supreme Court judges to 75 so all members of the court would have the same retirement age — but to no avail.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Lord chancellor 1987-97
Sir, Lord Neuberger raises a valid point in questioning mandatory judicial retirement at 70. As it stands, the bench loses tremendous experience when magistrates are ushered into retirement on their septuagenarian year. One ill-founded criticism often flung at the magistracy is its supposed lack of diversity. In fact, magistrates constitute the most diverse part of the judiciary in ethnicity and gender. However, the bench struggles with the range of ages, because roughly 85 per cent of sitting magistrates are 50 or over; existing employment practices make it hard for full-time employed younger people to sit in court regularly. We would welcome a retirement age review, but it must be in conjunction with a recruitment drive to bring talent to the magistracy, irrespective of age.
Malcolm Richardson, JP
National chairman, Magistrates Association
Sir, Judges having to retire at 70 does not sit easily with jurors being eligible until they are 75. Surely the ability to apply the law should be equal? A judge is a highly intelligent person working in a familiar environment. Jurors come from all walks of life and sit in a very alien environment. The actual ability to make a wise decision at 70-plus must be quite similar.
Sir, I must lend support to Lord Neuberger. Having been appointed before 1995 I was allowed to sit as a circuit judge until 75, and subsequently in the Gibraltar Supreme Court from age 80 for a further two years. All without mishap. That is, until the final two weeks, when (owing entirely to a minor confusion on names) I sentenced the particularly disruptive defence lawyer to three years in prison. It took a full half hour before anybody bothered to correct me.
His Honour Barrington Black
HIGGS BOSON’S VALUE
Sir, It has taken about 50 years to prove Peter Higgs’s particle to be a correct prediction and it may take another 50 years to prove him wrong that his particle may not be useful (“The God particle made my life hell”, Mar 29). When Heinrich Hertz presented his discovery of the electro-magnetic waves, he was asked if they were of any practical application, to which he replied none whatsoever. Legend has it that Marconi was in the audience and the waves proved to be radio-waves; the rest is history.
Similarly, when Cesar Millstein discovered “monoclonal antibodies” he was asked if they were of any practical use; he replied that he could not think of any. Within a few years these antibodies became indispensable in biological research, followed by application in the treatment of diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and now cancer.
Higgs, Hertz and Milstein share in common brilliant discoveries, personal modesty and justifying basic research.
Professor Tom Lehner
King’s College London
MENTAL HEALTH PLEA
Sir, If you discovered you had cancer or heart disease, you would expect to be treated by a doctor who specialised in that illness. Similarly, if you had a serious mental health disorder, you would want to be treated by a psychiatrist or mental health professional specialising in your condition. However, one year on from NHS England’s ambitious five-year plan to transform mental health services in this country, delivering this most basic of requirements is still not always possible. Figures published by NHS Digital this week have shown a 10 per cent decrease in child and adolescent psychiatrists and old age psychiatrists over the past two years, with a significant fall in liaison psychiatrists too — who are vital in treating the steep rise in those who turn up at A&E with mental health problems. Although we welcome the ambitions set out by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England (report, Mar 30), a healthy and sustainable plan for our NHS can only be achieved with the staff to deliver it.
Sir Simon Wessely
President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Sir, Your leader “Straight Dope” (Mar 30) is right: either pay more or accept reduced services. The shortfall in funding is enormous, about £40 billion to reach the level of France and Germany in terms of GDP. Thus, savings of a few hundred millions of pounds here and there will do little to reduce the funding gap. The solutions you suggest could go a long way in reducing the shortfall, though it will require real courage by politicians to implement any of these solutions. There is little evidence to suggest that the NHS organisation is significantly more efficient than the health systems in other European countries.
SUGAR AND OBESITY
Sir, Professor Russell Viner (Thunderer, Mar 30) suggests passing legislation if food companies fail to meet the arbitrary targets of Public Health England. It is not the incentives that are the problem. No amount of coercion from government will make artificially sweetened food palatable to consumers.
After a series of announcements about shrinking chocolate bars, it is becoming clear that the only realistic way for the food industry to reduce sugar content in confectionery is to miniaturise the products. As this is being done as part of a wholesale degradation of the food supply under instructions from the government, can we have an assurance that prices will shrink by a commensurate amount?
Institute of Economic Affairs
Sir, There has been plenty of debate about possible laws to reduce the sugar content in drinks and sweets to reduce obesity, but little about the need for compulsory exercise in schools. More exercise would have a much greater effect on excess weight and have cardiac benefits in addition.
Professor R G Green
Baildon, W Yorks
TESTING FOR TB
Sir, Glen Hewinson, from the Animal and Plant Health Agency, laments the absence of a test to distinguish between infection and vaccination (“Farmers are paid to tolerate bovine TB, claims scientist”, Mar 29). The interferon gamma release assay, a blood test, detects TB antigens and is therefore able to distinguish between infection and vaccination, unlike the 100-year-old skin test. It was actually invented for use in cattle and has been used with great success in humans for more than a decade.
Professor Peter D O Davies
Secretary, TB Alert, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital
TO TEACH OR NOT TO TEACH THE BARD?
Sir, David Aaronovitch’s meditation (Comment, Mar 30) on the dropping of Shakespeare’s plays from South Africa’s educational curriculum is thought-provoking. Are the “humanist” values expressed in the plays relevant not merely to Shakespeare’s nation but humanity? More importantly, humanity’s leaders? Aaronovich cites Mandela.
Think, for a moment, of the world’s paramount leader. US presidents were once Shakespearians to the core. John Quincy Adams began a lifelong immersion in the Bard at the age of ten. George W Bush “did” three Shakespeares one lazy summer, when president. One admires him for it. Bill Clinton loved to quote Macbeth and could fence with the leading Shakespearian critic of the day, Stephen Greenblatt, on how relevant Shakespeare’s tyrant was to the president of the United States of America.
Donald Trump? Don’t ask.
Emeritus Lord Northcliffe professor of modern English literature, UCL
Sir, May I nominate John Charles for best footballer (letters, Mar 29 & 30)? Not for nothing was the Juventus player called Il Buono Gigante (“the gentle giant”) in Italy. Never cautioned or sent off, he achieved immortality when, in the local derby against Torino, he declined to score, preferring to return to tend a defender who had injured himself in trying to resist the big man. He was a real giant of a man, in both senses of the word. Michael Parkinson once wrote: “There should be a statue of John Charles outside every football ground to remind footballers what they can aspire to.”
Sir, Bobby Charlton is reputed to have said that Duncan Edwards was the only player to make him feel inferior.
Sir, The Kennel Club spokesman is quite correct in stating that the maximum number of dogs a person can walk “in a controlled manner” depends on a number of factors (“Dog walkers complain of hounding by councils”, Mar 29). What he omits to say, though, is that such control includes the legal responsibility of removing dogs’ excrement when pets are being exercised in a public place. Although I have observed that owners are able to “scoop the poop” when in control of up to four dogs on leads, I defy even a professional walker to do so when in charge of 14 dogs, as shown in your illustration.
Woodland Trust volunteer warden, Bristol
THE LAST LAUGH
Sir, Captain Peter Watson’s letter (Mar 30) reminds me of a concert of patriotic British music that was staged in Hong Kong in 1997, a few days before British sovereignty ended and Chris Patten, the governor, left the territory. The concert was wryly but appropriately marketed as “The Last Night of the Poms”.