Friday, 30 December 2016

False convictions do more harm than good

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2010:]

We must strive to restore the integrity of criminal justice process

[This is the heading over a letter from Glasgow Liberal Democrat councillor Christopher Mason in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

There is a worrying contradiction between the standards being applied in the cases of Tommy Sheridan and Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi. Sheridan was prosecuted because perjury threatens the whole justice system; but the British and Scottish establishments are apparently indifferent to the doubts expressed about the integrity of Megrahi’s trial and, indeed, the second appeal process.

The crux of the criticisms is that neither the forensic evidence about the timer nor the identification evidence provided by the Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci should have been accepted as sound. These criticisms are contained, we are led to believe, in the unpublished report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which recommended in June 2007 that a second appeal should be heard. The second appeal process was stymied by the refusal of British and American authorities to allow some of the documents to be dealt with by the court in the normal manner; if it had been heard promptly it would have been disposed of one way or the other before Megrahi’s release on health grounds ever became an issue.

Without the forensic evidence and Gauci’s evidence, Megrahi and Fahima could not have been prosecuted. There are allegations that this evidence was tainted. I do not understand why those who thought the Scottish justice system was seriously threatened by perjured evidence in Sheridan’s civil case against a newspaper, cannot find a way of looking into our criminal justice system in relation to the allegation that the most important criminal trial of the 20th century proceeded on the basis of false evidence.

Although 22 years have passed since 270 innocent people were murdered by whomever planted the Lockerbie bomb, this is not just a matter of historical interest or even of justice for the families of the victims. In the continuing campaign to deal with terrorism, the known integrity of our justice system will be essential to success. That is one of the lessons we are supposed to have learnt from Northern Ireland: false convictions do more harm than good.

One of the best defences against the crime of terrorism is the known integrity of the normal criminal justice process. To restore public confidence in the Scottish criminal justice system when dealing with terrorism, the Scottish Parliament should find some way of allowing the court to hear and dispose of the matters raised in the SCCRC 2007 report.

[RB: As far as I can see, the letter is no longer to be found on The Herald’s website.]

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