Friday, 23 January 2015

Today's High Court hearing on SCCRC Megrahi application

[What follows is the report on the BBC News website of today’s (purely procedural) hearing in the High Court of Justiciary before Lady Dorrian:]

A High Court judge has been asked if families of some of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing can launch an appeal on behalf of the only man convicted of the atrocity.

It is the latest attempt by relatives to bring the case back to court.

The families want the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi overturned.

Lady Dorrian has now ordered that a hearing should take place to decide whether they can pursue an appeal on his behalf.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) wants guidance on the legal status of the relatives of those who lost their lives in the atrocity.

After hearing submissions from legal teams, Lady Dorrian arranged a hearing to take place on 27 March.

Al-Megrahi died three years ago, having abandoned his own second appeal brought by the SCCRC.

The SCCRC is considering a joint application from members of Megrahi's family and the Justice for Megrahi campaign group, which includes relatives of British victims of the bombing, to review the conviction.

It previously said that despite repeated requests, members of Megrahi's family had failed to provide "appropriate evidence" supporting their involvement in the application.

The SCCRC concluded that the application was being "actively supported" only by the members of the victims' families.

Previous court decisions have meant that only the executor of a dead person's estate or their next of kin could proceed with such a posthumous application. [RB: This is incorrect. There are no Scottish judicial decisions one way or the other on this issue. That is why the SCCRC feel the need to seek guidance.]

The SCCRC wants to determine if a member of the victims' families - such as Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the bombing - might be classed as a "person with a legitimate interest to pursue an appeal" if the case is referred back to the High Court.

Dr Swire and Aamer Anwar, solicitor for the Megrahi family, were among those at court for the latest hearing.

Mr Anwar said: "We would submit that the commission are wrong and that we remain instructed by members of the Megrahi family as well as the British relatives.

"We have been in communication with the Megrahi family, both via intermediaries and directly.

"Communication is hampered by an extremely dangerous situation in Libya, a situation referred to in December by the Lord Advocate, by way of an explanation for lack of any progress in relation to investigations into the Lockerbie atrocity."

He added that with regards to the rights of the victims' families to pursue an appeal there was a "fundamental duty" to protect the rights of victims of crime.

"It is submitted that the families of the victims have as much right to make an application for referral as the family of Mr al-Megrahi," he said.

"Finality and certainty in the Megrahi case is unlikely ever to be achieved unless a referral is made to the Appeal Court."


  1. It's not especially unreasonable for the SCCRC to seek clarity in this matter. What is unreasonable is for the Crown Office to oppose the application, as it is reported elsewhere it intends to do.

    Frank Mulholland has repeatedly insisted that the only place to review this much criticised verdict is in court, and that the mechanism for doing that is by way of an application for a fresh appeal. At every stage of the way he has indicated that the relatives of the victims were the people he envisaged making this application. The hurdle of getting the Megrahi family to make the application was never so much as mentioned. (Indeed he at one point indicated that Justice for Megrahi could make such an application if they wanted to. Which was nonsense, but that didn't matter if it served his purpose of being gratuitously offensive to that group.)

    It would be absolutely outrageous if the Crown Office were to seek actively to oppose the right of the victims' relatives to make this application, after years of virtually taunting them to "bring it on!", and of rejecting all other suggested avenues to progress the case on the grounds that such an application was the only proper way to proceed.

    It certainly gives the lie to their outwardly-expressed confidence that the conviction would be upheld on appeal. As of course anyone at all familiar with the case realises, the conviction is a dead duck and the Crown would be well advised simply to announce it did not intend to contest any appeal and save us all a pile of money.

    1. To be fair to the Crown Office (which I invariably am, of course) I think its stance has been misreported in the media. At today's hearing the Crown's position was that it was entirely a matter for the SCCRC to decide whether the case should be referred back to the court. If there was a reference back, the Crown would vigorously uphold the conviction in that appeal.

    2. I'm pleased to hear that. I may have done the Crown Office a disservice, but considering their usual standard of behaviour in this case, I'm not especially repentant.

      I hope Aamer is considering pointing out to the review hearing that the Crown Office has consistently taken the line that a new appeal application is the only available, and indeed the right and proper route to have all the doubts about the conviction examined. And that in this context the application has always been referred to in the context of its being made by the relatives of the victims.

    3. Assuming the new appeal does get to court (which is probably assuming quite a lot at this stage), it will be interesting to see how the Crown's vigorous defence of the conviction plays out. Is this what they're supposed to do, anyway? Aren't they supposed to look at the new evidence and fold if it completely destroys their case?

      I'm just dying to see how they plan to prove that Megrahi bought the clothes from Tony Gauci, presumably with about three separate expert witness reports explaining in excruciating detail how unreliable that sort of memory-mining is, and also how they plan to prove the bomb came off the feeder flight. Never mind the rest of it. I mean, pass the popcorn.

      Their only hope is to keep the appeal out of the courts, but it would be an absolulte outrage if they did that.

  2. "...keep the appeal out of the courts, but it would be an absolute outrage if they did that."

    99.9% with anything to say in that matter will see the need for keeping this case far away from the courts.
    They'll take the usual path: lie, delay, hide, play the press etc. The charade will go on and on.

    That should not discourage anybody from pushing matters. The System desperately keeping the case away from court is another arrow in JfMs case.

    1. They're extremely powerful, but they're not omnipotent. Sufficient pressure that has legal force behind it can force action even against determined opposition.