Saturday, 15 October 2016

Al Megrahi wins legal victory in Lockerbie appeal

[This is the headline over a report published in The Herald on this date in 2008. It reads as follows:]

The man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing won a legal victory today in the latest stage of his bid to have his conviction overturned.
Judges ruled that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi's appeal could have a wide-ranging focus, looking beyond the issues raised by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) when it suggested he might have suffered a miscarriage of justice.
The decision came after the Libyan's lawyers lodged full grounds of appeal earlier this year and argued that the full appeal should include all the points pertinent to the case.
The Crown had opposed the move, arguing that it would be "absurd", "illogical" and incompetent in law for Al Megrahi to be granted a hearing with such a broad focus.
Today, three judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh rejected the Crown's position.
Lord Hamilton, sitting with Lords Kingarth and Eassie, said the court "holds that the appellant (Al Megrahi) is entitled to have his stated grounds of appeal decided by the court on their respective merits".
Al Megrahi's lawyer welcomed the "important victory" for his client.
Solicitor Tony Kelly said afterwards: "It is a complete victory for the appellant's position before the court and a complete rejection of the Crown's argument.
"The Crown employed lots of resources to try to restrict the court and they have been stopped in their tracks.
"It is an important victory for Mr Al Megrahi."
Al Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, is serving a minimum of 27 years in prison after being convicted of bombing Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, killing 270 people.
He lost an appeal in 2002, but was given a fresh chance to clear his name in June last year when the SCCRC referred his case back to appeal judges for a second time.
In its 790-page report, the independent body identified five reasons which led it to believe that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
Al Megrahi's full appeal is unlikely to be heard until next year, but numerous procedural hearings in the case have already been held.
In June this year, the Crown argued that the grounds of Al Megrahi's appeal should be confined to the reasons given by the SCCRC for referring the case to the court.
At a special five-judge hearing, Advocate Depute Ronnie Clancy QC said the commission's inquiries had been wide-ranging, having been undertaken in the UK and as far afield as Malta, Libya and Italy.
Granting Al Megrahi a wide-ranging second attempt to overturn his conviction would be "absurd" and "illogical", he argued.
But judges dismissed those arguments today.
Scotland's top judge, Lord Hamilton, told a procedural hearing in Edinburgh: "The court's conclusion is that... it rejects the statutory construction urged by the Advocate Depute and holds that the appellant is entitled to have his stated grounds of appeal decided by the court on their respective merits."
He said the court was applying the law as it currently stands.
Lord Hamilton went on: "Whether it is desirable, having regard to, among other things, the use of judicial resources, that a reference appellant should have unrestricted scope in what he lays before the court for adjudication is a matter for Parliament, but this court must apply the statute as presently framed."
Al Megrahi was not in court for today's hearing.
r Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the disaster and is spokesman for the UK Families Flight 103 group, was in court for today's decision.
After the hearing, he said: "This is excellent news from the point of view of the relatives.
"The attempt was to limit what was submitted to the court for the second appeal and this is the criminal authorities saying they are not going to restrict the defence.
"Since our remit is to look for the truth, the more that comes out in court the happier we are.
"So I am really jubilant about today's hearing."
[RB: Regrettably, the law on this matter has now been altered by the Scottish Parliament. In any new appeal allowed by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (eg in an application by Megrahi’s family) the appeal court would be limited to the specific grounds of referral allowed by the SCCRC unless the court was prepared, in the interests of justice, to permit additional grounds of appeal to be added: Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, section 194(D) (4A) and (4B), as inserted by Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 (asp 13), ss 83, 206(1).]

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