Sunday, 15 March 2020

The Scottish criminal justice system got Lockerbie disastrously wrong

[What follows is excerpted from a report by Judith Duffy in today's edition of The National:]

The lawyer who was the architect of the Lockerbie trial believes the overturning of the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi would renew pressure for a full inquiry into the disaster.

Last week the family of Megrahi, who died in 2012, was granted permission to appeal his conviction. (...)

Professor Robert Black QC, below, who believes there was a miscarriage of justice, said calls for a full independent inquiry had been blocked until now because of Megrahi’s conviction in 2001.

“The answer has always been we don’t need an independent inquiry, we have had a trial, we have had appeals and we know what happened – one person has been convicted,” he said.

“If that conviction is overturned, then both the UK and the Scottish Government are going to have to come up with a different excuse for not holding a full inquiry into Lockerbie.”

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has referred the case to the High Court, ruling the review of Megrahi’s conviction met two statutory tests for referral – that it may have been a miscarriage of justice and that it is in the interests of justice to refer it back to the court.

The case had been previously referred by the SCCRC to the appeal court back in 2007, but Megrahi abandoned the appeal two years later. A new review of his case was subsequently allowed posthumously after the SCCRC ruled he had dropped the appeal in the belief it would allow him to return to his native Libya, following a diagnosis of terminal cancer.

Megrahi flew home in 2009 after controversially being released from Greenock prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds. He had served eight years of a life sentence.

Black said the appeal ruling by the SCCRC in 2007 had made a “very strong finding” that no “reasonable court” on the evidence led at the trial could have accepted Megrahi was the purchaser of clothes that surrounded the bomb.

He said: “Now the current SCCRC goes even further than that – it now says that the commission believes a miscarriage of justice may have occurred because no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Mr Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

“The composition of the SCCRC has entirely changed between 2007 and 2020, so it is not the same people reaching the same decision again.

“This is two independent expert committees both saying no reasonable trial court could or should have convicted Megrahi.

“You can’t get a much more damning assessment of the trial court’s performance than that.”

Black said it was expected the appeal could proceed quickly and the verdict may even be known this year before the anniversary of the disaster on December 21. He said there was no reason for the Crown to use “delaying tactics” now that Megrahi was dead. (...)

Following the announcement of the permission for an appeal on Wednesday, lawyer Aamer Anwar issued a statement from Megrahi’s son Ali which said the family “finally hope our father’s name will be cleared”.

Others who believe Megrahi was innocent have also welcomed the decision, including Dr Jim Swire, the father of 23-year-old Flora Swire, who died in the disaster.

He said: “All we have ever wanted is a fair court where the evidence can be assessed.

“If the appeal runs through, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell the conviction will stand.”

The Justice For Megrahi group – of which Black is a member – said it would give some hope that the “stain that has lingered over the Scottish justice system for so many years will finally be obliterated.

However the news of potential fresh appeal has not been universally welcomed, with David Mundell, Tory MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, saying many in the Lockerbie community who wished to draw a line under the tragedy were disappointed.

Black, who was one of the architects of the Camp Zeist court in The Hague where Megrahi’s trial tool place, said truth is “more important than feeling of comfort”.

“If closure is based on something completely false, then what is your closure worth?” he said.

“My motivation is my belief the Scottish criminal justice system got Lockerbie disastrously wrong. I am a lawyer, I have practised the law of Scotland, I have taught the law of Scotland. If my legal system, the one I have devoted my life to, has made a disastrous mistake, I want that mistake to be acknowledged and to be rectified.”

He said he did not want to be “overly optimistic” in predicting whether Megrahi’s conviction would be deemed as wrongful if the appeal goes ahead.

He added: “If the verdict is overturned, you have to face it – this is an embarrassment.

“This would be the court in 2020 saying our very distinguished and senior colleagues in 2001 at the trial at Camp Zeist got it wrong.

“That is an uncomfortable thing to say – but I hope their lordships will have the courage to say it.”

[RB: In the same newspaper there is an article on the case by Andrew Tickell, headlined The Lockerbie trial may yet embarrass the Scottish legal systemstrongly supporting the SCCRC's decision to refer the case back to the High Court for a fresh appeal. Here are two sentences from it:]

Last week, the commission concluded that “no reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser”. I find it difficult to disagree with them.

The eyes of the world are understandably elsewhere this week, but make no mistake – the new Lockerbie appeal is a case of global significance, with huge potential to embarrass the Scottish criminal justice system and generate a transatlantic political storm.

[RB: In today's edition of The Observer an article by Kenan Malik headlined Will we finally discover the truth about Lockerbie? contains the following:]

The case against Megrahi was circumstantial and dubious. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103, has devoted his life to unearthing the truth about the bombing, and has long campaigned to prove Megrahi’s innocence. So has Robert Black, one of Scotland’s leading jurists, and the man who came up with the idea of a special trial in the Netherlands.

Many, including apparently the CIA, have suggested that the evidence pointed to Iranian, not Libyan involvement, possibly through a radical Palestinian cell.

Given the horror of the bombing, most people have been happy that someone was convicted, and not worried about the details. But, as Swire and Black bravely attest, truth and justice matter, even, perhaps especially, in a case as terrible as Lockerbie. The appeal may finally throw some light on both.

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