[What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2008:]
More than a year has passed since the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Abdelbaset Megrahi’s case back to the Criminal Appeal Court on the basis that his conviction might have amounted to a miscarriage of justice. More than nine months have passed since the first procedural hearing in the new appeal was held. More than six 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 isn’t in the book, have been asking the court to rewrite the book to insert it). The judges on a number of occasions have expressed disquiet at the Crown’s dilatoriness; but have so far done nothing meaningful to curb it. This must end. The delay is becoming scandalous. The reputation of Scotland’s criminal justice system is being further tarnished in the eyes of the world.
And all the while a man languishes in Greenock Prison. I have never made any bones about my view that the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi on the evidence led at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands is the worst Scottish miscarriage of justice in the past one hundred years, indeed since the conviction of Oscar Slater. But even those who do not share my views, or who are neutral on the issue, would surely accept that the delay in bringing the new appeal to a hearing on the merits is beginning to look cruel and unconscionable.
It is up to the judges to start cracking the whip. The words of Francis Bacon in his essay “Of Judicature” are perhaps worth recalling:
“A judge ought to prepare his way to a just sentence, as God useth to prepare his way, by raising valleys and taking down hills: so when there appeareth on either side an high hand, … cunning advantages taken, combination, power, … then is the virtue of a judge seen, to make inequality equal; that he may plant his judgment as upon an even ground.”
[RB: Had the mills of the Scottish criminal justice system not ground so outrageously slowly, Abdelbaset Megrahi’s appeal could have been heard and his conviction quashed before his prostate cancer was diagnosed. The Crown Office, the UK Government and the High Court of Justiciary have much to be ashamed of over this aspect of the Lockerbie fiasco as over many others.]