16 JUNE 1990, Page 20

LETTERS Justice and war crimes

Sir: Jo Grimond's comments on the War Crimes Bill (Diary, 9 June) are quite shocking and his special pleading on behalf of the alleged war criminals is totally misplaced. He does his weak case no good by condemning the Nuremberg Trials and raising the matter of other 'thugs and murderers' who have not been brought to trial. We were taught as children that two wrongs do not make a right, quite apart from the fact that the 'war crimes' commit- ted by the Nazis were unique. Indeed a new word 'genocide' had to be coined to describe them and Churchill referred to the Holocaust as 'the greatest crime in all history'.

Shorn of the rhetoric and indignation which Lord Grimond displays on behalf of the alleged war criminals, his arguments boil down to those which the opponents of the Bill have repeated ad nauseam. They are easily disposed of.

There should not be retroactive legisla- tion. The answer is that murder is and was a crime and the proposed Bill is not required to make it so. It merely enables those who were not British subjects to be treated like the rest of us. They would not get a fair trial. This is an insult to British justice, which requires the law officers to be satisfied that there is a case to be answered and leaves the decision regarding guilt and punishment to jury and judge. And of course the onus of proof is on the prosecution.

The Commons have voted three times and overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill and an opinion poll shows that the people of this country are in favour by a majority of two to one.

The passage of time has not altered the principle that murderers, whenever and wherever apprehended, should be brought to justice. This is not a constitutional issue, it is a matter of law spelled out by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and above all a moral issue recognised as such, more, it would seem, by young people than by those of Jo Grimond's generation. The pity and sense of outrage are for the victims and for humanity.

H. Pinner

95 Millway, London NW7