Friday, 22 September 2017

Law and Politics in the Lockerbie Case

[This is the heading over a press release issued on this date in 2008 by the International Progress Organization. It reads in part:]

The UN-appointed international observer at the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands, Dr Hans Koechler, revealed in an interview with the BBC's Reevel Alderson on 17 September  that the judges dealing with the new appeal of the only convicted suspect in the Lockerbie case, the Libyan citizen Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, have ruled that special counsel should be appointed for the Appellant in regard to the material covered by the Foreign Secretary's Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate. This was communicated in a letter to a member of the House of Commons, dated 4 September 2008 and signed on behalf of the Minister of State Kim Howells. The respective paragraph at the end of the letter reads as follows:
The UK government has made clear its commitment to work closely with the Court to ensure that Mr. Megrahi receives a fair trial and that sensitive material is handled appropriately. To this end the court ruled on 19 August that special counsel should be appointed to assist the court and safeguard Mr Megrahi's interests in relation to this issue. Once appointed, the special counsel will be provided with a confidential summary of the submissions made by the Advocate General at the last hearing. The UK government supports this ruling in the interests of ensuring the trial is fair.
It is to be noted that the above letter was in reply to a letter the member of the House of Commons had written earlier (13 August 2008) to the Foreign Secretary, stating that he was "deeply concerned if the statement by Dr Koechler in the attached letter is correct and vital 'exculpatory material' is being withheld from Mr Al-Megrahi's defence team." The member of the House of Commons refers to a letter by Dr Koechler, dated 21 July 2008, to the Foreign Secretary. It is further to be noted that Dr Koechler received an almost identical letter of reply from the Foreign Office (dated 27 August) - with the exception of the three sentences marked in bold in the above quotation.
The UN-appointed international observer has visited Scotland from 11 to 19 September on a fact-finding mission aimed at assessing the reasons for the long delay of the new Lockerbie appeal. (In June 2007, after investigations that lasted several years, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had referred the convicted Libyan national's case back to the High Court of Justiciary.)
In the course of his visit, Dr Koechler has participated in consultations held on 15/16 September at Greshornish House on the Isle of Skye. The meeting was convened at the invitation of the Lockerbie Justice Group, headed by Robbie the Pict, and included Prof Robert Black, the "architect" of the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands. Under the motto Quid nunc, Scotia? the participants were asked to consider questions in regard to the fairness and impartiality of the Lockerbie proceedings in the Netherlands and eventual new appeal proceedings in Scotland and to reflect on the lessons to be learned for the handling of any such case in the future.
Dr Koechler further held consultations with Mr Tam Dalyell, former member of the British Parliament and Father of the House of Commons; with Mr Alex Neil MSP and Mr Ian McKie, father of policewoman Shirley McKie, at the Scottish Parliament; and with members of the Lockerbie Justice Group on the Isle of Skye, in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  On 18 September he delivered a keynote speech on "The Lockerbie Trial and the Rule of Law" at the Law Awards of Scotland 2008, organized by The Firm magazine in association with Registers of Scotland at the Glasgow Hilton Hotel. In a reference to the Public Interest Immunity claimed by the UK government, Dr Koechler said:
Whether those in public office like it or not, the Lockerbie trial has become a test case for the criminal justice system of Scotland. At the same time, it has become an exemplary case on a global scale - its handling will demonstrate whether a domestic system of criminal justice can resist the dictates of international power politics or simply becomes dysfunctional as soon as "supreme state interests" interfere with the imperatives of justice. (...) The fairness of judicial proceedings is undoubtedly a supreme and permanent public interest. If the rule of law is to be upheld, the requirements of the administration of justice may have to take precedence over public interests of a secondary order - such as a state's momentary foreign policy considerations or commercial and trade interests. The internal stability and international legitimacy of a polity in the long term depend on whether it is able to ensure the supremacy of the law over considerations of power and convenience.
Dr Koechler's address was followed by enthusiastic applause from an audience of over 600 attendants representing Scotland's legal profession and was commented on by the subsequent keynote speaker, Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC, former Leader of the United Kingdom's Liberal Democrats.
In an exclusive interview for the German-French TV channel ARTE, conducted in Edinburgh, and in all public meetings and consultations in Scotland Dr Koechler reiterated his call for a full public inquiry into the causes of the mid-air explosion of PanAm flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie and the handling of the case by the Scottish judiciary and the Scottish as well as the British executive.

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