Monday, 8 February 2016

Megrahi's first appeal

[What follows is the text of a report by Gerard Seenan in The Guardian on this date in 2001:]

The Libyan intelligence officer who was jailed for life for the Lockerbie bombing yesterday lodged an appeal against the conviction.

Lawyers for Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, 49, filed the appeal at the high court in Edinburgh. If leave to appeal is granted, five judges will decide within six months whether Megrahi's conviction should stand.

Robert Black QC, the Edinburgh law professor who was the architect of the trial, said it was unlikely that Megrahi would be denied the right to an appeal.

Last week Megrahi was sentenced to life, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 20 years, for the murder of the 270 who died in the Lockerbie bombing. In their ruling the judges said there was proof beyond reasonable doubt that Megrahi had planted the bomb in a suitcase on a plane leaving Luqa airport in Malta. The suitcase was loaded on to Pan Am flight 103 in London.

But the judges conceded the evidence before the court was open to interpretation.

Grounds for the appeal will not be made public until the full hearing, which will be held in Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in May at the earliest.

But it is unlikely that there will be any fresh evidence and Prof Black said the appeal would likely be made on any of three legal grounds.

Ground A would be that certain findings, including the acceptance that Megrahi bought the clothes which surrounded the bomb, were not justified by the evidence. Ground B would be that the evidence does not justify the findings in fact that there was a piece of baggage which was sent unaccompanied from Malta to Heathrow. The third ground would be that the evidence as a whole does not justify proof beyond reasonable doubt of guilt.'

Since the return to Libya of Megrahi's co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, who was acquitted, there have been protests against Megrahi's conviction.

[RB: Megrahi’s legal advisers did not adopt the lines of appeal that I suggested. What they did do, and how disastrously it turned out, can be read here (section entitled THE APPEAL). It was only after this appeal failed that Megrahi belatedly sacked the legal team that represented him there and at the trial.]


  1. I suppose that having failed to make a "no case to answer" submission at the close of the Crown case their pride prevented the defence team from effectively doing so in the appeal. People from outside the curious medieval world of Scottish court procedure just don't understand that appeal court judges consider themselves entirely constrained by the written grounds lodged and unable to stray into the territory of actual fact. American appellate judges rightly view their function as trying to rectify injustice, which I think at least partly explains why our American friends seem to believe that the Megrahi appeal court somehow endorsed the trial court's findings on the facts. What is utterly inexcusable is for commentators here, including Crown Office apologists, to take that line.

  2. I thought American courts were just as bad, but in slightly different ways. I've often heard about appeals being mainly about process and not about the evidence.

  3. You're probably correct, Rolfe and my comment was too glib. I'm sure we could find appeal courts in some states every bit as eccentric as ours. I just think that with the focus on the Supreme Court as ultimate legal authority and its function being to uphold constitutional rights Americans don't expect judges to get hung up on niceties.

  4. Having followed a number of miscarriage of justice cases in the USA, my overwhelming impression is that that's exactly what they do. There's even one example of a US judge declaring that factual proof of innocence is no barrier to an execution being carried out so long as all the proper procedures have been followed.

    Ironically the Italian system, which is a train wreck in many ways, came out best last year when their Supreme Court looked at the absolute clusterfuck of a case against Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox and in effect said "don't be so bloody stupid, case dismissed." It's just a pity that was about the fifth court to consider the case and two innocent students spent four years in jail on account of a botched police operation.

    1. You're absolutely right, Rolfe. Scalia is on record saying pretty much what you quoted. I've had a rosy view of the Supreme Court formed in an earlier age. My apologies.