Wednesday, 12 August 2015

High Court opinion denying legitimate interest of victims' relatives

On 3 July 2015, three judges of the High Court of Justiciary ruled that relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie disaster did not have a “legitimate interest” to pursue an appeal against the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi for the murder of their family members. A brief statement of reasons for the decision was read out in court at the time. The court’s full written opinion, which adds little to the earlier statement, is now available. It can be read here.


  1. Morally the ruling is despicable as it is obvious that the relatives of the victims, of whom Jim Swire is the most engaged and vocal, have a genuine overwhelming interest in knowing the truth. It was not only cruel to deny them that chance, it was I suggest legally questionable.

    The section which the court had to consider is very short and entitles a person who is (a) is an executor “or” (b) otherwise appears to the Court to have a legitimate interest to bring to court an application, which in turn entitles that person to have an appeal. I put “or” in quotes because the section does not say “whom failing”; on a fair reading both types of person rank equally.

    I respectfully suggest that being mentioned first does not confer primacy. An executor is the person appointed in terms of a will or by the court to deal with a deceased person’s financial estate and may have, in fact often has, no emotional or family connection whatsoever with that person. It is easy to see why the Sutherland Committee included executors, because the estate of a deceased convict could be impacted by claims from victims, but perhaps significant that the executor is mentioned last - the right should be conferred on “someone who could demonstrate to the Court good reason for pursuing such an appeal, for example a personal or business partner, close relation or executor.”

    Nor does the section expressly exclude applications by two or more people. In such a case no doubt the High Court would easily find ways of regulating the procedure to avoid duplication of effort.

    The High Court has ruled differently, however, with the bald statement, unsupported by reasoning “Subsection 303A(4), however, assumes that it will be the executor of the deceased convicted person who will have the primary right to do so.” Later on the judgement speaks of only of the executor “as of right” being allowed to proceed, others presumably only being admitted by judicial discretion. Is this a sinister warning that the court will not entertain any appeal unless out of the turmoil that is present day Libya someone produces a document that resembles a Scottish Confirmation?

  2. In an earlier post, didn't Prof Black say that his impression from attending the hearing was that the judges weren't minded to allow the appeal even if Khaled El Megrahi produced all the required paperwork? That's pretty shocking actually.

  3. I recall a saying 'War is too important to be left to the generals'.
    We can unfortunately also say 'Justice is too important to be left to the judges'.