Friday, 15 July 2016

A domestic and international embarrassment

[What follows is the text of a letter written to Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, on this date in 2009 by Steven Raeburn, editor of Scottish lawyers’ magazine The Firm:]

The Firm magazine recently ran a poll of its readers, which found that 86% of respondents supported a public inquiry into the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie.

A copy of the news story which ran in the July issue of the magazine is appended below for your reference, and a copy of the magazine is enclosed.

I can add that solicitors and advocates, in addition to the general public, have frequently and consistently expressed to me their despair at the damage that has been inflicted upon the law of Scotland by this case. No doubt you are already aware that the Scots legal system was once rightly regarded as among the best and most effective in the world. Regardless of its present efficacy, it is now regarded both domestically and (especially) internationally as an embarrassment, principally because of the damning reflection cast upon it by the passage of the Lockerbie case through it.

On behalf of the readers of The Firm – including over 10,000 solicitors and 500 or so advocates who wish to see the reputation of Scots law restored and be certain the legal system they work for and within is a source of pride to them, and not of shame- I am duty bound to ask for you to address their wishes for a public inquiry. Like them, it is my fervent wish that the legal system of Scotland, and those who work within it, can be certain that the law which is applied in their name is done so honourably and with full accountability, devoid of the stains and shadows that this case has thrown upon it.

The reason this case refuses to go away is simply because the answers provided by the judicial process have failed to satisfy the public interest on one hand, and those directly affected by these events on the other. Whilst one bad case cannot be fairly described as representative of all that goes on in Scots law, that one bad case is nevertheless a valid reflection of what our legal system is capable of achieving, and there is a large constituency of the public who are not satisfied with that conclusion.

For my own part, I will simply state that the first step to repairing any damage is to understand how it was caused. A full inquiry may begin to shed the necessary light that will allow repairs to be effected. In the interests of accountability, and on behalf of the readers of The Firm, I ask you to let me have your response and proposals for action.

As a journalist, I constantly remind myself of the words of the great Edward R Murrow, who noted that just because my voice is amplified to the degree that it reaches from one end of the country to the other, it does not confer upon me greater wisdom or understanding than I possessed when it reached only from one end of the bar to the other. What my journalistic reach does impose upon me however, is a correspondingly amplified duty to use my free speech responsibly, and I therefore cannot in good conscience offer any voice to the readers of The Firm if I do not take forward their legitimate concerns and, where necessary, act upon them. If I felt otherwise, I should simply publish cartoons instead. Justice must be done, even tho’ the heavens may fall. If you and I cannot do our best to achieve that, then both of us are in the wrong jobs.

I, and those 86%, look forward to hearing from you.

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