[On this date in 2009 the first stage of Abdelbaset Megrahi’s second appeal was concluded. Here is what the Lord Justice General (Lord Hamilton) said at the conclusion of the proceedings:]
The court is much obliged to counsel on either hand for the careful and comprehensive submissions which have been made at this stage of the appeal. We will now, of course, require to give these submissions detailed and careful consideration. A question will arise as to whether it is appropriate to decide grounds 1 and 2 at this stage or, alternatively, to defer that decision until we have heard argument on other grounds, which are or may be closely related to them.
We appreciate that having regard to, among other things, the appellant's state of health there will be concern that we deal with these matters as expeditiously as possible. But having regard to their importance to all concerned, we cannot and must not rush to judgment.
Time has been set aside towards the end of this term for a procedural hearing in relation to further grounds of appeal. And in terms of the interlocutor of 18 March of this year, days were set aside in the week commencing 29 June for that purpose. For reasons which it is not necessary to go into, we intend to change that date or dates to dates in the week following that, that is the week commencing 6 July. We expect that by that time we will have reached a decision as to whether or not we should decide grounds 1 and 2 at this stage and to be able to intimate which course of action, either deciding them at this stage or deferring them, we have decided upon.
But by this time, we shall simply continue the appeal to the first of the dates which are now substituted for the procedural matters which we have referred to, that is to Tuesday 7 July of this year.
[RB: In the light of the stately pace which this statement demonstrates that the court thought appropriate in an appeal brought by a man with a terminal illness, I take leave to reproduce a comment that I had made on this blog on 26 October 2008:]
[T]he delay in bringing Mr Megrahi’s current appeal to the hearing stage has been appalling. Had a measure of urgency been shown, it is entirely conceivable that the appeal could have been over before now and the appellant back with his wife and children in his own country, a free man. The SCCRC had his case under consideration for more than three years before referring it back to the High Court. The submission made to them was, admittedly, a long and detailed one. But the issue of the trial court’s unreasonable findings ... is a very simple and straightforward one and required virtually no investigation other that a perusal of the relevant portions of the transcript of evidence. If the SCCRC decided early in its deliberations that the case was going to have to be referred back on this ground – and it is difficult to believe that it did not – then delaying taking that step for three years is hard to justify.
Then there is the delay that has occurred after the SCCRC referred the case to the High Court in June 2007.
More than sixteen months have passed since then. More than thirteen months have passed since the first procedural hearing in the new appeal was held. More than ten months have passed since the appellant’s full written grounds of appeal were lodged with the court. Why has no date yet been fixed for the hearing of the appeal? Why does it now seem impossible that the appeal can be heard and a judgement delivered by the twentieth anniversary of the disaster on 21 December 2008?
The answer is simple: because the Crown, in the person of the Lord Advocate, and the United Kingdom Government, in the person of the Advocate General for Scotland, have been resorting to every delaying tactic in the book (and where a particular obstructionist wheeze is not in the book, have been asking the court to rewrite the book to insert it). These tactics include, to name but a few, raising difficulties about allowing the appellant access to productions used at the original trial; seeking to overturn previous appeal court decisions on the scope of the appeal in SCCRC references; and claiming public interest immunity on “national security” grounds in respect of documents which have been in the hands of the Crown for more than twelve years and which have been seen by the SCCRC. The judges on a number of occasions have expressed disquiet at the Crown’s dilatoriness; but have so far done little, if anything, meaningful to curb it.