1 JUNE 1985, Page 5


IT IS strange that the conference of the Royal British Legion has called for par- dons for all British soldiers convicted of cowardice in the first world war. One would have thought that an organisation of veterans would have had a clearer idea of the rules of war. It may very well be true that many of those convicted had not, in fact, committed acts of cowardice, but the evidence for this, after such a long time, is bound to be patchy, and therefore incon- clusive. It is also true that the judicial methods of the army at that time might not satisfy modern standands, but to apply such standards to all past judicial decisions would be arrogant, anachronistic and even, because so much in English law depends upon precedent, dangerous. No doubt the British Legion, having a high regard for courage, has a particularly vivid horror of the false accusation of cowardice. This is an admirable feeling, but pardons would not appease it: For pardons to be granted, the Ministry of Defence would have to sit in judgment on its predecessors. This it has no ability to do, and so the pardons themselves would be unjust.