Sunday, 3 April 2016

The neutral venue solution: variations on a theme

[What follows is the text of a report that was published in The Herald on this date in 1995:]

Doubts over the feasibility of arranging for a Scottish court and jury to sit abroad are likely to prevent Labour from supporting an amendment to the new Criminal Justice Bill which could bring about a trial for the Lockerbie bombing.

The amendment, tabled by former Scottish Office minister Allan Stewart, would allow a Scottish court and jury to sit abroad for the trial of the two Libyans charged with carrying out the attack.

Libya has refused to hand over the men, who are accused of murdering the 270 people who died when Pan Am flight 103 exploded above Lockerbie in 1988, claiming they would not receive a fair trial in Scotland, or the United States.

Mr Stewart's amendment offers a potential solution by keeping the case
within the jurisdiction of the Scottish legal system while satisfying Libyan demands that the trial be held in a neutral third county, possibly The Hague in the Netherlands.
The amendment will be opposed by the Government when it comes up in the Commons Committee considering the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. With a Government majority of one on the committee, Labour's support for Mr Stewart could force a defeat.
However, although the Scottish Labour leadership is sympathetic to the demands of those campaigning for a solution to the impasse, it is understood to be concerned about the feasibility of having a Scottish court sit abroad.
Sources suggest there are ''fundamental problems'' including the need to alter Scots law to fit in with European law which could result in a ''mongrel court''. However, Labour is not yet prepared to dismiss Mr Stewart's clause, and will wait for the committee debate, expected after Easter.
Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who sits on the committee and who will support the amendment, said yesterday he would fight to secure his party's backing. He said he had received assurances from Deputy Shadow Scottish Secretary John McFall that Labour would back the amendment. ''I would be astonished if we didn't,'' he said.
Yesterday Mr McFall, who leads for Labour on the committee, said his side would wait ''with interest'' to hear Mr Stewart explain his idea.
Mr Stewart proposes to visit Libya from next Friday, to meet Libyan government officials with the aim of persuading them to accept his idea.
The former minister, who will announce details of his trip today, will write to all the MPs on the committee explaining the reasoning behind the new clause. He does not accept the argument that procedural difficulties would make it impossible for a Scottish court to sit in a third country.
Meanwhile, the British authorities yesterday refused to comment on a newspaper report which named an Arab businessman as the mastermind behind the Lockerbie bombing.
It claimed that Dr Ihsan Barbouti, who had offices in London and Malta, planned the attack, and received £3.2m from a Libyan account. Officially, Dr Barbouti died in 1990 after suffering a heart attack, but the newspaper suggests he may have faked his own death to avoid capture and trial.
[RB: A fuller account of the Ihsan Barbouti story can be read here.
Eventually, in summer 1998, a neutral venue solution to the Lockerbie impasse -- based on my January 1994 proposal -- was accepted by the United Kingdom and the United States.]

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