Thursday 4 March 2010

From Lockerbie to Zeist

A slightly revised edition of an article by me with this title - originally published in Malta in 2000 in a book edited by Joe Mifsud - now appears on Caustic Logic's The Lockerbie Divide blog. It can be read here.


  1. I would be very interested to read the article by the Lord Advocate Lord Hardie "The Lockerbie Trial" from the 1998 Scots Law Times (News)9. Could anybody e-mail me the text?

  2. Yes, and Baz should e-mail me a critique of it. Mayhaps? So far I'm enjoying hosting others' commentary on the broader legal-political picture as I focus on technical details. Thanks for the plug, Professor Black. It is a swell piece, as I said there, especially the Oswald dig.

  3. I was very surprised to learn that this constitutional innovation did not require an Act of Parliament (this being eight months before the establishment of a Scottish Parliament) and was authorised merely by an Order in Council thus avoiding parliamentary debate and scrutiny.

  4. Maybe that article could be published here or on the Lockerbie Divide blog?
    Thank you!

  5. I'm afraid I'm not in a position to post Lord Hardie's Scots Law Times article. It doesn't seem to be available online and I don't have a copy with me here in South Africa. Perhaps some kind friend in the UK could scan it and e-mail it to me?

  6. Professor Black, given the fact you believe the trial was a huge miscarriage of justice, and the subsequent events of Megrahi's imprisonment and development of a fatal disease at a relatively young age, do you in hindsight wish the trial had never happened?

    Nobody could have expected that perverse verdict in advance, but in hindsight - I wonder.

  7. Hmmm, yes, that's a good question. It is a very complex and unusual situation.

  8. I suspect that the Scottish Judiciary took the view that a trial for murder in Scotland should take place at the High Court in Edinburgh and not in some defunct airforce base in the Netherlands because Edinburgh did not suit the defendants and/or the Libyan Government. I think they had a view about decamping to Holland on the basis of an order in Council brought about by a New Labour political fix.

    I suggest (without a shred of empirical evidence save for what actually transpired at Camp Zeist) that they were determined to convict somebody, if they possibly could, so that never again would a Tribunal be created to try a particular case.

    "Nobody could have expected that perverse verdict in advance" ?

    Well I haven't read the Lord Advocate's 1998 article , but I can guess what the gist of it is.

    Professor Black has expressed the opinion that this is he worst miscarriage of justice in recent Scottish history but it is also the first time an experimental Court has been created to hear a murder case. I suspect the two are related and that "Camp Zeist" was he determining factor in the conviction.

  9. I think it's simpler than that. There had been ten years of international hoo-hah over all this, with negotiations and santions and claims of "incontrovertible evidence". This culminated in what can only be described as a high-profile three-ring circus.

    I don't doubt the judges for a minute when they say they were put under no pressure to return a particular verdict. I'm quite sure nobody put the thumbscrews on them, or even dropped pointed hints about their prospects of further honours and preferment. However, it's undeniable that there was pressure to get something out of all that effort.

    The case against Fhimah fell apart completely. What were the judges to do? Admit that they didn't have a case against Megrahi either, so in fact all these sanctions and threats and posturings (and house arrests) were for nothing, and actually we haven't a [censored] clue who bombed PA103? Admit that all the investigative efforts were for nothing, and please start again, Mr. Policeman?

    Or maybe, if they tortured the evidence just right and gave Common Sense a short holiday, they could bring in a conviction against this Megrahi chap, and everybody else can heave a sigh of relief?

    I think that's exactly what happened. And I think it's a shame and a disgrace to our country.

  10. 'I'm quite sure nobody put the thumbscrews on them, or even dropped pointed hints about their prospects of further honours and preferment.'

    I totally disagree. In government sensitive cases particular judges including Court of Appeal judges are often used to bring in a verdict favourable to the state.

  11. Quite so Ruth. Add to the list UK based inquiries - Hutton springs to mind.

  12. Please bear in mind it was a condition of UN Sanctions that Libya accept responsibility and pay compensation in advance of a trial - what could be more prejudicial to a fair trial?

    I do not see "Camp Zeist" as being organised to return a guilty verdict. I just suspect that for reasons largely unrelated to the actual crime the Judges were predisposed to convict as it was intolerable that the defendants could negotiate the form of Tribunal before which they would agree to appear.

    I see the object of Camp Zeist as an attempt to bring the matter to a close, sanctions having served their purpose and support for sanctions was crumbling.

    If the case was found "not proven" or Mr Al-Megrahi acquitted I suspect that would still have been the end of the matter. The Police and/or Crown Office would have announced they were not looking for anybody else. In the full circumstances it was a case too difficult to prove "beyond reasonable doubt."

    The UN Security Council had already declared "Libya" guilty. (I recall some Scottish Police Officer commenting that Fhimah was lucky to have been acquitted.)

  13. All of the above. I'd say. Pressure is pressure - "a particular verdict" isn't the issue I'd think, but rather the general trend - guilty-ish would have to prevail, for so many reasons. I think FWIW their lordships were quite unhappy at the height of the hurdles they knew they'd have to keep leaping over. Had to be done though. Had to.

    For the good, Camp Zeist had a big part in allowing the sanctions to end, for one. Hat's off to Prof. Black for all his focused work on the case, but man, what an awkward process fraught with paradox and politics.

  14. New comment at the post there someone might want to respond to. I've got to get off to work now.

    Anonymous said...
    Some observations and questions:

    1)“It came of some surprise when on 14 November 1991 the prosecution authorities in Scotland and the United States simultaneously announced that they had brought criminal charges against two named Libyan nationals who were alleged to be members, and to have been acting throughout as agents, of the Libyan intelligence service”

    Why would it come as such a surprise? Surely Pr. Black was well aware of Libya’s involvement and support of terrorist activities; including the Abu Nidal Organization and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command – some of whom were arrested in the Autumn leaves sting in Germany, where bomb making equipment was siezed. Said equipment had many similarities (outside of the timing device) to the PA103 bomb.

    2)Who exactly were the group of British businessmen who approached Professor Black and what exactly were their desired “major engineering works in Libya” ? Oil springs to mind. BP perhaps? Smacks of a deal in the desert… Oh what a wicked web…

    3)Pr. Black insults the reader by insinuating that anyone in their right mind would believe that he (Pr. Black) would, on an unpaid basis, endure traveling to Libya against sanctions, and risk being kidnapped or killed at that time. But then again, perhaps Black defies the definition of “right mind”, and/or "unpaid".


    This post clears it up for me.