Thursday, 9 June 2011

No excuse whatsoever

[This is the heading over an article by me just published on the website of the Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. It reads as follows:]

Writing exclusively for The Firm, Professor Robert Black QC argues that the latest revelations which strike at the heart of the safety of the conviction of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi leave no excuse left for the Government to avoid convening an inquiry in the Pan Am 103 affair.

This is a comment that I posted a few days ago on the Lallands Peat Worrier blog:

“In an ideal world, I would prefer there to be no Scottish recourse, civil or criminal, to a UK Supreme Court. But, at present, on human rights issues, Scottish prosecutors and courts are getting it wrong far too often for comfort. How this is to be remedied, I do not know (but having career Crown Office civil servants as our law officers certainly doesn't help).

“And it is tragic that two of the best Scottish judges of their generation (Lords Hope and Rodger) have to be transported to London (where most of their time is spent hearing English appeals) when they are so badly needed in Scotland.”

One way of showing that we do not in Scotland need a UK Supreme Court nanny would be to take rigorous steps domestically to investigate cases where there is clear evidence of the justice system having miscarried. The clearest and worst such case is the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing.

The Aljazeera documentary Lockerbie: The Pan Am Bomber? is just the latest in a series of hammer-blows, ranging from the published views of UN observer Dr Hans Koechler, the findings (to the extent that they have been released) of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, to the devastating critiques of Gareth Peirce, the most experienced and successful UK lawyer in overturning gross miscarriages of justice.

The outraged reaction of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC (the Lord Advocate who brought the charges against Megrahi and Fhimah) to the evidence presented to him that the Crown’s principal witness was being offered monetary inducements will be shared by any lawyer who has the slightest concern for the probity of our criminal justice system. The acceptance by the Zeist court of that witness’s credibility and reliability was essential to their verdict of guilty and without his evidence there could have been no conviction. Had the judges known of the shady financial dealings going on behind the scenes, their assessment of the witness’s evidence must have been very different.

There is now no excuse whatsoever for the Scottish Government to deny an independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction. If the career Crown Office civil servants who are currently Scotland’s law officers stand in the way, they must be sacked.

It is time that the Scottish criminal justice system regained its self-respect.

[A news item in the magazine on this article can be read here.]

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