[What follows is excerpted from a report published on this date in 2008 in the Daily Record:]
Secret documents at the centre of a costly courtroom row are unlikely to help Libyan agent Abdelbaset al-Megrahi overturn his conviction for the Lockerbie bombings, it was claimed on Wednesday.
Al-Megrahi, 56, is serving a minimum of 27 years of a life sentence for bringing down a United States-bound Pan Am flight in December 1988 with the loss of 270 lives – regarded as Scotland’s worst mass murder.
His claims of innocence have been referred to appeal judges by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.
The SCCRC say that before the trial started al-Megrahi’s defence team should have been shown papers which an unknown foreign government handed over to UK authorities – believed to be about the bomb’s electronic timer.
But defence lawyers cannot get their hands on the documents because the Westminster Government say that revealing their contents will harm foreign relations and hamper the war on terror.
The Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh is now locked in a three day debate about how to conduct a hearing into whether or not the documents can be kept secret under a “public interest immunity certificate”.
As well as the three appeal judges there are nine advocates in the Edinburgh courtroom – five of them QCs.
Advocate General Lord Davidson of Clova QC – who represents Westminster of legal issues in Scotland – has suggested a procedure never before seen in Scotland.
Judges would be allowed to read the secret papers then decide – behind closed doors – whether they should be handed over.
But al-Megrahi’s lawyers would be kept out and replaced by a security-vetted advocate to try to ensure fair play.
Today it was the turn of advocate depute Ronald Clancy QC to give the view of prosecutors.
He told the judges in Edinburgh that Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC, responsible for criminal prosecutions in Scotland, would hand over the documents if Foreign Secretary David Miliband had not objected.
“They are not likely to be important to any undermining of the Crown case or cast doubt on it”, he said.
Mr Clancy also suggested that a possible way round the difficulty might be for defence lawyers to see an edited version of the controversial documents.
Margaret Scott QC, senior counsel for al-Megrahi, insisted that without sight of the document she could not properly prepare for the Libyan’s appeal – which is still months away, at least.
“Al-Megrahi’s position here is that he wants disclosure of these documents in order to exercise his right of appeal,” she said.
The papers were “material” because the SCCRC had said so, she added.
Ms Scott also criticised the proposals for a special security-vetted lawyer to encroach on her job.
“My main concern is any proposed procedure which determines the substance of the appeal taking part in the absence of al-Megrahi or his defence counsel”, she said.
[RB: Will we have to go through all this again if the current application to the SCCRC results in a reference of the case back to the Appeal Court, but with Richard Keen QC (whose appointment as Advocate General for Scotland was announced yesterday) seeking to keep the documents out of the hands of the lawyers arguing the appeal on behalf of the late Abdelbaset Megrahi?]