Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Judicial requirements subordinated to considerations of power politics

[This is the headline over a report by Mark Hirst published today on the website of Russian news agency RIA Novosti.  It reads in part:]

Judicial standards in the UK were “subordinated by power politics” during the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie judicial proceedings, the UN’s official observer to the trial, Hans Koechler, has told RIA Novosti.

Koechler added that he did not believe that a decision by the previous UK Government to withhold “potentially vital” evidence from the defense team of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of 1988 bombing, would be overturned by the current British coalition Government in London.

Megrahi, terminally ill with prostate cancer, was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government and returned to Libya before passing away in 2012.

“It goes without saying that justice requires transparency and that proper judicial proceedings cannot be conducted in the absence of – potentially vital – evidence,” Koechler told RIA Novosti.

Koechler, a Professor at the University of Innsbruck, said it was important a new appeal, recently launched by Megrahi’s family against his conviction, proceeded.

“It is certainly important that a new appeal goes ahead. The second appeal, that followed the referral by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, should never have been dropped,” Koechler told RIA Novosti.

“It was obvious to me at the time that Megrahi acted under pressure.”

Six years ago Koechler wrote to the British Foreign Secretary urging him to drop the Public Immunity Interest (PII) certificate that allowed the UK Government to withhold key evidence from the defense team.

“It will be up to the applicants' legal representatives to raise the issue of the PII certificate in the course of a new appeal,” Koechler said.

“However, what I have learned from observing the Lockerbie controversy, when the "supreme interests" of the state and/or a state's allies are concerned, judicial requirements are always subordinated to considerations of power politics,” Koechler told RIA Novosti.

“This was exactly the dilemma of the Lockerbie case from very beginning: that one cannot conduct judicial proceedings as an intelligence operation. Under such circumstances, the rule of law will always be the victim,” Koechler said. “According to my assessment, it is highly unlikely that the previous British Government’s PII decision will be overruled by the present administration in London.”

Koechler was first to call for an independent international public inquiry into the events that led to the atrocity, which remains the worst terrorist attack in British history.

But whilst the Scottish Parliament is formally considering a petition calling for such an inquiry to be established, Koechler believes chances of one proceeding are unrealistic in the current political climate.

“The Security Council is not anymore seized of the matter – the Lockerbie dispute – and a new consensus among the Council's permanent members on the setting up of an investigative committee is not realistic,” Koechler told RIA Novosti.

“Only a coercive resolution would provide the necessary powers – and independence – to international investigators,” Koechler added. “Under these circumstances, everything will depend on the domestic situation in the UK.”

Koechler dismissed efforts to secure a public inquiry set up by the Scottish authorities.

“An investigation mandated by the Scottish Parliament will not be sufficient because the issue is an international one,” Koechler told RIA Novosti. (...)

One man, Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was convicted of the attack, but since his trial serious doubts have been raised by campaigners and some relatives of victims of PA103 about the safety of his conviction.

In 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case back to the Scottish High Court for a second appeal against the conviction. The SCCRC report determined “a miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.

The second appeal was ultimately dropped by Megrahi’s own defense team in 2009 who told the High Court they believed it would “assist” in the determination of the Libyan’s application to be released on compassionate grounds.

Eight days after formally dropping his appeal Megrahi was released and returned to Libya.


  1. October Surprise scandal - Operation Ringwind - Lockerbie bombing

  2. By any other name al Megrahi's release was a plea-bargain. Obviously innocent but a sick man who wanted to be with his family in his final hours. What a stitch up!

  3. John, I have to agree that's what it looked like. Even the way the BBC reported it, at least at first. I remember hearing Huw Edwards announce that Megrahi would drop his appeal and then he would be granted compassionate release a day or so before it actually happened. It sounded exactly like a quid pro quo.

    Oddly, that's what sparked my intense interest in the case. I immediately sat up and began berating the TV screen. (And Kenny MacAskill) in no uncertain terms. I realised I wasn't going to find out what this was all about unless I looked for myself. So I started looking.

    It has since been denied that any pressure was put on Megrahi to drop the appeal. But even Maggie Scott said on camera that this had happened, and she's not normally indiscreet. There's pressure and pressure I suppose.

    Paradoxically, if they'd let the appeal go ahead, Megrahi would have been acquitted on the grounds that there was no compelling evidence that he bought the clothes from Tony Gauci, and without that the conviction couldn't stand. Then the Crown would have pointed out that he was at the airport when the bomb was put on the plane (because the second appeal didn't challenge the Malta loading) and of course he has to be regarded as innocent but frankly if it wasn't him then who else and "the police are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident". Such a pity there just wasn't quote enough evidence to make it stand up in court, in the end. Thus the original investigation would still defend its integrity and its conclusions.

    Now, however, thanks directly to the second appear having been abandoned, it has been proved for certain that the bomb didn't go on at Malta. It was in the baggage container at Heathrow an hour before the connecting flight landed. Which gives Megrahi a cast-iron unbreakable alibi.

    Oh dear.