Friday 3 August 2007

Bid to restore Scottish legal reputation

[This is the headline over an article published in The Sunday Post on 29 July 2007. It reads as follows:]

Foreign judges for al-Megrahi appeal

By Paul Johnson

AN MSP wants the court hearing the Lockerbie bomber’s appeal to include at least two international judges.He says it’s a bid to restore the reputation of the Scottish legal system.The call came in a letter from SNP backbencher Alex Neil to the Lord President of the Court of Session, Lord Hamilton on Thursday. He claims his idea has the support of Lockerbie campaigner Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, died in the bombing, plus former MP Tam Dalyell and Iain McKie, father of “fingerprint case detective” Shirley.

It also has the backing of Professor Robert Black, who originally suggested holding the trial in a neutral country.

Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed in 2001 for the 1988 atrocity. But the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission recently said he could go ahead with a second appeal.


Mr Neil said, “I haven’t discussed my letter with Executive members, but Tam Dalyell, Iain McKie and Jim Swire are all very supportive. “If you look through the report of the Review Commission there are a lot of unanswered questions about due process and justice at the original trial. This brings into serious question aspects of the Scottish legal system.”

Mr Neil claimed the conduct of the McKie and Lockerbie cases has damaged the system’s international standing.“I know people in the US who are very critical about what has happened,” he added. “There’s a need to re-establish the criminal justice system’s reputation.“The world’s eyes will be on the appeal, so it’s critical justice is done and seen to be done.“I feel people have been complacent about the effectiveness of the system because it has always been held up as something to admire.“Those romantic memories of yesteryear will not sustain us tomorrow.”

Edinburgh University professor Robert Black is credited with drawing up procedures for the original trial which convinced Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi to hand over the accused men.

Neutral venue

He said last night, “My January 1994 proposal for a non-jury trial in a neutral venue suggested foreign judges should be involved with a Scot presiding. But the UK Government insisted all the judges should be Scottish.“I still think including foreign judges is a good idea.” There is no precedent for this but Prof Black says it could be possible to extend the categories of people who can become temporary judges in the High Court to include foreign judges.“I think it would require legislation in the Scottish Parliament which would be easy to draft. The question is whether it would have majority support.”

A Justice Department spokesman said, “The priority is to allow the legal process to follow its natural course. This is very much a matter between Mr Neil and the Lord President.” Tam Dalyell said, “I’ve been calling for an international element to the appeal hearing for some time. If not judges, what they might want to do is have some international observers.”

At al-Megrahi’s first appeal in 2002 a panel of five judges met at the special Scottish court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, led by then Lord President Lord Cullen

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