Friday, 28 October 2016

UK goverment adamant in opposing neutral venue trial

[What follows is the Hansard report of an exchange that took place in the House of Commons on this date in 1997 arising out of a question to the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook:]

HC Deb 28 October 1997 vol 299 cc700-702
Mr Dalyell If he will make a statement about his meeting with the Lord Advocate in September on the issues arising out of new information on Lockerbie and Libyan sanctions.
Mr Robin Cook I met my noble Friend the Lord Advocate on 4 September. His view remains that the available evidence supports the case against the two accused Libyans, and that there is no evidence of the involvement of nationals of any other country in the Lockerbie bombing. I fully accept that assessment.
It is for the Libyan authorities to fulfil their clear duty to surrender the two men accused of that act of mass murder to stand trial in Scotland. I am today inviting the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Arab League and the Organisation of African Unity to send a delegation to Scotland, to show them the judicial system there and to discuss arrangements for a trial in Scotland with international observers.
Mr Dalyell Since one of the reasons given by the Foreign Secretary for objecting to a trial on Lockerbie in The Hague is that the Americans might refuse to submit evidence that they held to a court outside Scotland or the United States, can we reflect on why the Americans should do that? Is there a suggestion that the Americans might be unwilling, after nine years, to give information to the Dumfries and Galloway police?
Mr Cook We have had full co-operation throughout from the United States authorities and they have shared fully with the investigating powers all the evidence available to them. It would not be possible, however, to mount a prosecution without the co-operation of the US authorities, who hold part of the evidence. Most of those killed on the Pan Am jet were Americans, and the majority of their relatives do not want a trial to take place outside Scotland or the United States.
Sir Teddy Taylor As the interest of those who lost their relatives in the dreadful disaster is that a trial should take place and the guilty parties be identified and punished, is the Foreign Secretary really saying that there are no circumstances in which he will consider a trial outside Scotland, especially as the Libyans have already said that they would willingly surrender the two accused to an independent party—perhaps Egypt—if the trial were held in any third country?
Mr Cook If I may correct the hon Gentleman, what happened at Lockerbie was not a disaster; it was murder. No one in the House should forget that. I find it strange that it should be argued that a trial by Scots judges under Scots law in another country would be fair, but a trial by Scots judges under Scots law in Scotland would not. We have nothing to be defensive about concerning the impartiality of our courts, and I shall be proud to display that when I meet the delegation.
Mr Menzies Campbell I welcome the Foreign Secretary's announcement of the invitations that he has extended. Is the assertion that no fair trial can be obtained in Scotland not only unfounded but unnecessarily provocative? If the test of fairness of a judicial system is transparency, does not the Scottish system stand comparison with many others, including the Libyan system? May not fairness be established by the presence of independent observers at every stage of the legal process?
Mr Cook The hon and learned Gentleman makes some fair points about the nature of the Scottish legal system. It is, after all, the legal system to which we subject our citizens. I see no reason why there should be a separate system for those from Libya, but I understood that other countries may not be so persuaded. That is why I have made in good faith the offer that we are willing to discuss any reservations that other countries may have, confident in the knowledge that we can put them right. We would welcome monitors and observers from them at a trial so that justice could not only be done but be seen internationally to be done.
Mr Godman It is almost nine years since that terrible night when Pan Am flight 103 fell out of the sky. As one who has all along argued that those deemed guilty of that terrible crime should stand trial in the High Court in Edinburgh and not in America, may I offer my sincere compliments to my right hon Friend for arguing the case that such a trial should take place in Edinburgh?
Mr Cook I am grateful to my hon Friend for his support.
[RB: Ten months later, in August 1998 the UK Government finally conceded that a trial under Scots law should take place in the Netherlands.]


  1. "I find it strange that it should be argued that a trial by Scots judges under Scots law in another country would be fair, but a trial by Scots judges under Scots law in Scotland would not."

    He didn't know how right he was. The location of the trial did not prevent the crown, other involved parties and the judges themselves for criminally bending and hiding evidence and/or reaching absurd conclusions and a stupid verdict.

    The lesson to be learned by other countries: submitting your citizens to the showcase-trials of the West is not likely to bring you anything good.

    The neutrality of the country where the trial is held has (of course) no influence on whether justice will be bent.

    It is a very sad and disturbing conclusion, which unfortunately is well established by seeing how the operation of this and other trials work.

  2. To be fair I think the main reason for the trial being in the Netherlands was that the USA wasn't going to muscle in there and "extraordinarily render" the accused to stand trial in the USA where the death penalty could be applied. In contrast to Prestwick airport being used for refuelling of extraordinary rendition flights. At least that part worked.

  3. "...that the USA wasn't going to muscle in there and 'extraordinarily render' the accused to stand trial in the USA where the death penalty could be applied."

    At the time I would have said "C'mon, no decent country would do that!".
    Well, that is still correct, of course, but it's no longer any kind of argument.