Cruise missiles, price transparency, and MoJ inefficiency: your letters to the editor

Cruise control

It is only now, on a long flight, that I have been able to read Elizabeth Woodcraft’s Gazette article (24 June). She is guarded in her claim that the Greenham women led to the removal of cruise missiles from the UK.  They actually had some responsibility for this, but for entirely the opposite reasons that she seems to think.

Cruise missiles came to Europe at the request of the European members of NATO, who were concerned that the introduction of the SS20 by the Soviet Union would weaken the US nuclear guarantee which had preserved peace in Europe for so long. As well as at Greenham, there were huge protests in Belgium, Germany and Italy, other European countries where the missiles were to be installed.

In each case the government concerned faced down the protests and the missiles became operational. Contrary to what Elizabeth Woodcraft says, they were installed in the UK. Just as the Falklands war shocked the Soviet Union by demonstrating that a democracy would fight for a principle, it was only once cruise missiles were in place in sufficient strength to counter the SS20 threat that the Soviet Union was prepared to enter the negotiations to ban such weapons in the 1987 treaty.

So we do need to be grateful to the Greenham women for enabling the government, like other European governments, to prove that decisions thought to be in the national interest would be reached, regardless of the scale of protests by those who do not understand the importance of deterrence in maintaining peace.


Clive Fletcher-Wood

Former director of the Joint Operations Centre, Ministry of Defence; Bristol

Clear advantage of price transparency

I recently read a surprising statistic – only 28% of solicitors have complied with the new pricing transparency guidelines since their introduction last year, and it seems to show that many UK solicitors are not well versed in the requirements of today’s digital consumer.

Providing price information is a necessary part of meeting modern customers’ expectations, particularly online. With people spending as little as 10-20 seconds on a website before leaving, it is important to give well-informed and 24/7-focused consumers what they are looking for up front and that means making websites work harder.  

The benefits are compelling. Solicitors Regulation Authority research suggests that 42% of small businesses now shop around for legal services online, but as many as 75% would if pricing information was more accessible. Making this information available is straightforward (which is why it is surprising so few firms are compliant) and, if well presented, would help to build trust by giving consumers what they need in real-time, whether that is at 6am or 10pm.

As a business providing telephone-answering and live-chat services to 950 legal practices in the UK, pricing is one of the most prominent requests we receive, particularly for conveyancing, family law and will-related services. 

This lack of compliance raises the question – why aren’t legal websites being better used as lead generators? It seems to me that making price information more accessible could dramatically improve web performance and, combined with tools like live chat, push the conversation beyond pricing to highlight customer service, expertise and value. Lawyers support people when they are at their most vulnerable or making important changes in their lives. Why not help consumers and businesses access the information they need from those experts?

Legal firms really must put themselves in their customers’ shoes without delay. Sharing price information is important to building more relevant and honest conversations with clients, and putting them at the heart of legal practice. It will be interesting to see how practices keep pace over the next few months and, importantly, just what the repercussions of non-compliance will be.


Claire Smith

Head of business development, Moneypenny, Wrexham

MoJ inefficiency 

Although I have the utmost respect for the Ministry of Justice, it could not be regarded as a model of efficiency. It is not surprising, then, that it has taken well over six months (and counting) to settle a judicial pension claim. This prompted me to issue a Freedom of Information request. This was refused, however, on the basis that it would require work costing more than the £600 limit set out in the Freedom of Information Act – that is to say, work done by one person for 3.5 days.

On this basis, then, the 30,000 hours taken by HMCTS staff to deal with the recent IT chaos would have cost the taxpayer well in excess of £700,000. 

Although, as a retired judge, words were the tools of my trade, I am at a loss adequately to express my feelings about this. Suggestions welcome.


Dr Stephen Pacey

North Muskham, Nottinghamshire

Equality before the law

Barrister and former soldier Patrick Hennessey has spoken of our courts being unequipped to handle ‘such issues’ as alleged crimes by service personnel. Yet there are other categories of offending which are just as sensitive and complex, and just as demanding of a similar delving into historical events.

What about sexual abuse accusations often going back decades, for example? Are still serving and former military personnel to be assigned an exceptional state of impunity?

The accused in both circumstances, sometimes in strikingly similar ways, may have had their lives put on hold for years pending investigation and/or prosecution, only eventually to be exonerated. There is no such animal as a painless prosecution for either complainant or accused. However proper – or otherwise – the bringing of the case, it comes with the territory.

Are we serious about equality before the law or not? Every possible speed should govern what nonetheless are inevitably going to be troublesome and time-consuming undertakings, but even then anxiety for those in the frame may prove inevitable.

Doctor Thomas Fuller had it right in 1733: ‘Be you never so high, the law is above you.’


Malcolm Fowler

Retired solicitor and higher-court advocate, Kings Heath, Birmingham