[The death in Cairo this morning of Dr Ibrahim Legwell at the age of 90 has just been announced. Dr Legwell, as a Libyan lawyer, was involved in the Lockerbie case from the time that Libyan citizens were first publicly accused by the United States and the United Kingdom of responsibility for the bombing. What follows is an item that was posted on this blog on 11 October 2015.]
[It was on this date in 1993 that it was announced, following a “legal summit” held in Tripoli involving the international team of lawyers assembled by Dr Ibrahim Legwell to assist him in advising Abdelbaset Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah, that the suspects were not prepared to surrender themselves for trial in Scotland. Those taking part from Scotland were Donald Macaulay QC and Alistair Duff. I have previously described my own involvement as follows:]
The Libyan government asked me to be present in Tripoli while the team was meeting so that the government itself would have access to independent Scottish legal advice should the need arise.
It was apparent that the Libyan government expectation was that the outcome of the meeting of the defence team would be a decision by the two accused voluntarily to agree to stand trial in Scotland. I am able personally to testify to how much of a surprise and embarrassment it was to the Libyan government when the outcome of the meeting of the defence team was an announcement that the accused were not prepared to surrender themselves for trial in Scotland. My meeting after the defence decision was revealed with the then Deputy Foreign Minister, Mousa Kousa (later head of external security and Foreign Minister) made this only too clear.
In the course of a private meeting that I had a day later with Dr Legwell, he explained to me that the primary reason for the unwillingness of the accused to stand trial in Scotland was their belief that, because of unprecedented pre-trial publicity over the years, a Scottish jury could not possibly bring to their consideration of the evidence in this case the degree of impartiality and open-mindedness that accused persons are entitled to expect and that a fair trial demands. A secondary consideration was the issue of the physical security of the accused if the trial were to be held in Scotland. Not that it was being contended that ravening mobs of enraged Scottish citizens would storm Barlinnie prison, seize the accused and string them up from the nearest lamp posts. Rather, the fear was that they might be snatched by special forces of the United States, removed to America and put on trial there (or, like Lee Harvey Oswald, suffer an unfortunate accident before being put on trial).
The Libyan government attitude remained, as it always had been, that they had no constitutional authority to hand their citizens over to the Scottish authorities for trial. The question of voluntary surrender for trial was one for the accused and their legal advisers, and while the Libyan government would place no obstacles in the path of, and indeed would welcome, such a course of action, there was nothing that it could lawfully do to achieve it. (...)
Having mulled over the concerns expressed to me by Dr Legwell in October 1993, I returned to Tripoli and on 10 January 1994 presented a letter to him suggesting a means of resolving the impasse created by the insistence of the governments of the United Kingdom and United States that the accused be surrendered for trial in Scotland or America and the adamant refusal of the accused to submit themselves for trial by jury in either of these countries. This was a detailed proposal, but in essence its principal elements were the following.
1. That a trial be held outside Scotland, ideally in the Netherlands, in which the governing law and procedure would be that followed in Scottish criminal trials on indictment but with this major alteration, namely that the jury of fifteen persons (not twelve, as in England) which is a feature of that procedure be replaced by a panel of judges -- ideally from states other than those principally affected by the disaster, but presided over by a Scottish judge -- who would have the responsibility of deciding not only questions of law but also the ultimate question of whether the guilt of the accused had been established on the evidence beyond reasonable doubt.
2. That the prosecution be conducted by the Scottish public prosecutor, Lord Advocate, or his authorised representative.
3. That the defence of the accused persons be conducted by independent Scottish solicitors and counsel appointed by the accused.
4. That any appeals against conviction or sentence be heard and determined in Scotland by the High Court of Justiciary in its capacity as the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal.
Although not expressly stated in the proposal, it was the clear implication (and this was understood by Dr Legwell) that in the event of the accused being convicted by the court, they would serve any sentence of imprisonment imposed upon them in a prison in Scotland.
In a letter to me dated 12 January 1994, Dr Legwell stated that he had consulted his clients, that this scheme was wholly acceptable to them and that if it were implemented by the government of the United Kingdom the suspects would voluntarily surrender themselves for trial before a tribunal so constituted. By a letter of the same date, Deputy Foreign Minister Mousa Kousa stated that the Libyan government approved of the proposal and would place no obstacles in the path of its two citizens should they elect to submit to trial under this scheme.
[RB: Further information regarding Dr Legwell's involvement over the years in the case can be found in the blogposts collated here.]