Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Despair at damage inflicted on Scots law by Lockerbie case

On this date five years ago, the following item appeared on this blog.

[What follows is the text of a letter sent today to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice by Steven Raeburn, editor of the Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. The full account on the magazine's website can be read here.]

The Firm magazine recently ran a poll of its readers, which found that 86% of respondents supported a public inquiry into the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie.

A copy of the news story which ran in the July issue of the Magazine is appended below for your reference, and a copy of the magazine is enclosed.

I can add that solicitors and advocates, in addition to the general public, have frequently and consistently expressed to me their despair at the damage that has been inflicted upon the law of Scotland by this case. No doubt you are already aware that the Scots legal system was once rightly regarded as among the best and most effective in the world. Regardless of its present efficacy, it is now regarded both domestically and (especially) internationally as an embarrassment, principally because of the damning reflection cast upon it by the passage of the Lockerbie case through it.

On behalf of the readers of The Firm -- including over 10,000 solicitors and 500 or so advocates who wish to see the reputation of Scots law restored and be certain the legal system they work for and within is a source of pride to them, and not of shame -- I am duty bound to ask for you to address their wishes for a public inquiry. Like them, it is my fervent wish that the legal system of Scotland, and those who work within it, can be certain that the law which is applied in their name is done so honourably and with full accountability, devoid of the stains and shadows that this case has thrown upon it.

The reason this case refuses to go away is simply because the answers provided by the judicial process have failed to satisfy the public interest on one hand, and those directly affected by these events on the other. Whilst one bad case cannot be fairly described as representative of all that goes on in Scots law, that one bad case is nevertheless a valid reflection of what our legal system is capable of achieving, and there is a large constituency of the public who are not satisfied with that conclusion.

For my own part, I will simply state that the first step to repairing any damage is to understand how it was caused. A full inquiry may begin to shed the necessary light that will allow repairs to be effected. In the interests of accountability, and on behalf of the readers of The Firm, I ask you to let me have your response and proposals for action.

As a journalist, I constantly remind myself of the words of the great Edward R Murrow, who noted that just because my voice is amplified to the degree that it reaches from one end of the country to the other, it does not confer upon me greater wisdom or understanding than I possessed when it reached only from one end of the bar to the other. What my journalistic reach does impose upon me however, is a correspondingly amplified duty to use my free speech responsibly, and I therefore cannot in good conscience offer any voice to the readers of The Firm if I do not take forward their legitimate concerns and, where necessary, act upon them. If I felt otherwise, I should simply publish cartoons instead. Justice must be done, even tho’ the heavens may fall. If you and I cannot do our best to achieve that, then both of us are in the wrong jobs.

I, and those 86%, look forward to hearing from you.

[RB: I am off early tomorrow morning to Swansea University to take part as external examiner in the viva on a Lockerbie-related PhD thesis. It is unlikely that there will be further blogposts until Thursday evening at the earliest.]


  1. RB: "I am off early tomorrow morning to Swansea University to take part as external examiner in the viva on a Lockerbie-related PhD thesis."

    Assuming it is a Lockerbie-case related thesis:

    That sounds very interesting.

    I have always wondered how it would be to be law student in a country with a so clearly corrupt judicial top?

    Among the students are the most progressive activists, knowledgeable, energetic and free from the conformity that life later imposes on most people with family and career. Yes, there was even a wikipedia page:

    Where are the students saying "I am not spending my best years on educating myself into something this rotten."

    Where are the Syracuse students who needs to see justice in a case that killed so many of them?

    Those speaking up will always be a minority. But there should be some?

    I hope you can tell us more about the thesis at some point.

  2. Swansea isn't in Scotland though.

    Once the thesis is accepted, it enters the public domain. I'm not sure how easy PhD theses are to access though, for the generally interfering busybody sort of person.

  3. > Swansea isn't in Scotland though.

    Oops, I always get things confused. :-) It's in Russia, right? I recall some Russian guy Tchaikovsky made a movie about it.

    > I'm not sure how easy PhD theses are to access though, for the generally interfering busybody sort of person.

    In my days there would usually be 2 printouts available - one on the university lib, and one for the writer's shelf - where they were quite well protected against scrutiny, even if somebody with the educational capacity should drop by.

    Maybe Robert will digest for us at his return.

  4. I think Glasgow Uni has more than one copy of mine. Or maybe not. I gave one to the institute that funded my post-graduate studies as well.

    However, that was before the digital age. Or rather right at the start as there is a floppy word processor disc somewhere with the text on it, but since the submission was solely hard copy that doesn't make much difference.

    Nowadays, though, it would be simplicity itself for the things to be made available as non-editable pdfs. I've no idea if any university actually does that.

    Broadcaster John Milne died.
    The 'Herald Scotland' said in an obituary:
    John what dispatched after the crash of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie (21 Dec., 1988) where he presented Reporting Scotland live from the town center to a record audience for any Scottish TV news programs.
    His final words did night, as wreckage from Flight 103 and 270 of dead bodies lay on the hills around him, were: "This is Scotland's blackest day ever".
    God bless you and your family.

    Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, Switzerland.
    MEBO added: Since the doubtful Scottish judgment against Abdelbaset al Megrahi and Libya, (2000/01), the greatest despair and damage inflicted on Scots Law by Lockerbie case