Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Reform that would have helped in review of "deeply dodgy" Megrahi conviction "conveniently parked"

[The current edition of Private Eye (issue 1366) returns to the Lockerbie affair in its In The Back section.  The relevant article reads as follows:]

The Scottish government has quietly shelved for at least a year its controversial Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which would have abolished the centuries-old principle of corroboration, requiring two independent pieces of evidence to bring a case to trial.

The move neatly heads off an escalating row with the Bill’s growing body of opponents until after September’s independence referendum. But is also rather conveniently parks another reform, which would have made it easier to get the deeply dodgy conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing, back before the appeal court – just as relatives of some of the victims were about to launch an unprecedented legal action to do just that.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was one of the 270 who died in the attack, is leading 25 relatives of the Lockerbie victims who are about to make a new a new application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to send Megrahi’s case back to the court of appeal – for a third time. The families believe proving Megrahi’s innocence, may be the only way they will get nearer the truth behind what happened to their loved ones.

The SNP Government has repeatedly refused mounting calls for an inquiry in to the festering scandal, claiming, absurdly, that the appeal court is the only appropriate forum for airing the issues. Yet it has quietly stacked the cards against one.

Eye readers will know that the SSCRC had already found strong grounds for believing there had been a miscarriage of justice, but Megrahi who had terminal cancer abandoned his second appeal five years ago in order to return to Libya to be with his family. Since then there has been fresh scientific evidence relating to the bombing device which points to his innocence. There has also been mounting concern about the amount of material also suggesting he was not the bomber, which had been withheld from Megrahi’s 2001 trial and his first appeal the following year, by Scotland’s prosecuting authority, the Crown Office now headed by the country’s chief prosecutor, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC.

The new application by the families, which will focus on the new evidence added to the six grounds on which the SCCRC based its previous referral in 2007 including non-disclosure of evidence, will be breaking new territory. First they will have to prove they have a ‘legitimate interest’ in pursuing an appeal on behalf of Megrahi – a task made easier by the fact that Megrahi’s family support the move. They will then have to prove the case is the ‘public interest’ – a far more straightforward argument. But thanks to an arcane piece of legislation, the biggest hurdle facing the families is that before deciding whether to hear a case referred to it by the SSCRC, the appeal court must have regard to ‘the need for finality and certainty in the determination of criminal proceedings’.

"Finality and certainty" isn't defined in the legislation, but it means the court has to decide whether the threat of endless appeals and challenges, outweighs SCCRC concern that there may have been an injustice. With one first failed appeal and the second abandoned, the court might simply say ‘enough is enough’ – especially when Megrahi himself is dead.

That ‘finality’ test was to have been abolished in the new Criminal Justice Bill – but unfortunately for the Lockerbie families it now remains the law.


  1. Good for the Eye. After all that has occurred since 2007, only the certifiably naïve could now believe that the Scottish Government and COPFS are not in cahoots for all the wrong reasons. We have a Justice Directorate that may as well close its offices on Calton Hill and decamp to Chambers Street, such is the relationship between MacAskill and Mulholland. Rather than the service of justice, the only service that has been achieved during MacAskill's tenure is service to the reputations of COPFS and the Scottish Government themselves, all in the name of vote catching populist legislation presented under the guise of standing up for the victims of crime. It is nothing more or less than a cynical sleight of hand that will inevitably maintain existing miscarriages of justice and open the floodgates to even more. But we won't get to hear about them though because of 'Cadder' Section 7, which has emasculated the SCCRC, will remain unrepealed until it suits Mulholland, MacAskill and Salmond to take it off the statute book. Good luck to that.

    In fact, think I'll pop down the bookie's to see what kind of odds they'll give me on Section 7 not being repealed until after the High Court has kicked out the application for a third appeal. Don't imagine the odds will be very long.


  2. I am not wholly convinced by this, either way. I imagine events will make things clearer.

    Private Eye is a forelock-tugging lackey of the establishment these days though, and it never hurts to bear that in mind.

  3. Dear Rolfe,

    "Private Eye is a forelock-tugging lackey of the establishment these days though, and it never hurts to bear that in mind."

    It is on an extremely rare occasion that I purchase a newspaper or even read one because, tabloid and broadsheet alike, around 80 to 90% of what appears in them is coloured. The only times I do are when I want a laugh or feel like getting angry about something or other.

    I don't have any financial relationship with the Eye. I also am not an investigative journalist, nor do I believe are you. Therefore, I don't think either of us are in a position to know what the Eye omits in favour of the establishment. However, I may be doing you a disservice since perhaps you are aware of what they are omitting. You make the above assertion, based on what? The only other way you could be cognisant of how they are colouring the news to curry favour with the establishment is if you have identified particular slants in articles. Can you cite these?

    In the context of the article in question, I fail to see any slant or added colour that demonstrates what you are saying. You may, if so, where is it?

    I have no romance with the Eye, nevertheless, it is the only rag in the UK that I ever cough up my hard earned for on a regular basis.


  4. Let's not have a public row about this, OK? I am aware of an absolute ton of stuff the Eye is studiously avoiding, although you'd think it would be right up its alley.

    Wings Over Scotland is publishing it.

  5. Well Yes and No!

    I agree with Quincey Riddle that Private Eye is very informative on many issues, but even an anti-establishment publication must still work within certain parameters to remain in business.

    And I’m sure all lawful anti-establishment groups are contacted by the secret services to establish these parameters, whereas non-constitutional groups are infiltrated.

    But I agree with Rolfe that Private Eye do hold back on certain issues.

    For example I contacted them a number of times outlining the logical and more likely explanation for Lockerbie and it wasn’t even acknowledged!

  6. "For example I contacted them a number of times outlining the logical and more likely explanation for Lockerbie and it wasn’t even acknowledged!"

    What a surprise!

  7. In the main, Private Eye, its satirical humour section aside, publishes articles on political, financial, legal, and corporate corruption, along with side swipes at double standards in the media. Thus has it ever been. With the exception of the odd column and their 'Special Reports' they are not generally a mouthpiece for views on given topics, political, economic or otherwise. Even in the Special Reports the emphasis is on the corrupt nature of the issue.

    If people wish to get their views published, and those views do not fit with the focus of the Eye, perhaps they should be approaching the another publication.

    Insofar as visits from the security services are concerned, I very much doubt if the Eye's editor or any of the journalistic staff have signed the Official Secrets Act. Moreover, under its now three editors since its founding, they have demonstrated themselves to be survivors and perfectly willing to deal with extremely fraught issues and the consequences of their reporting on such via the courts.

    Simply because once upon a time WH Smith refused to carry the publication on their shelves and now the Eye is de rigueur for every board room magazine rack does not mean they have sold out, it is a reflection of their success at having put the wind up those who ought to be worried.

    The Eye is a small publication in terms of the amount it can print in 30 to 40 pages once every fortnight. They are also inundated with material everyday. They, therefore, must be selective. My central concern is Lockerbie/Zeist. There have been occasions when I thought that an aspect of that issue may have appealed to them but it hasn't. I am simply grateful that they do publish what they do on the subject. I should also remind you that Ian Hislop (editor) and Heather Mills (jounalist with the Lockerbie remit) are both up front full members of JFM.


  8. I don't see any need to idolise the publication simply because it has published some very good stuff about Lockerbie (bear in mind Paul Foot's pamphlet is one of the best things written on the subject) and is supportive of JFM.

    There are more issues in the world than this one. And no money needs to change hands for editors to pursue their own personal agenda.

  9. I give up. As you said earlier, Rolfe, no need to allow this to develop into a 'domestic'.

    Pip, pip.

  10. Paul Foot's flight of fancy is probably the reason Private Eye don’t want to review the explanation for Lockerbie, to avoid the proverbial egg on face!