Saturday 30 October 2010

Independent inquiry into Megrahi case would achieve nothing

[This is the heading over a letter from Iain A D Mann in yesterday's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

I welcome the support of Cardinal Keith O’Brien for the petition asking the Scottish Government to hold an independent inquiry into all the circumstances of the trial and conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi (...) But although I signed the petition, I have little confidence that it will have any effect.

Both First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill have repeatedly stated their belief that Megrahi’s conviction was entirely correct, and they seem determined to ignore the independent report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) listing several serious concerns about the evidence at his trial and suggesting that the conviction may have been unsafe.

In any case, it seems that an inquiry set up by the Scottish Government would have no powers to summon witnesses or to examine them under oath, or to demand the release of relevant UK and US documents so far denied even to Megrahi’s defence team, so it would be a pointless exercise.

A UK inquiry could meet these witness and disclosure requirements, but neither the Coalition Government nor the Labour Opposition is the slightest bit interested in opening up such a can of worms, in which previous Tory and Labour governments were deeply involved.

So it seems that the only chance of finally getting to the truth is to re-open Megrahi’s second appeal to the Scottish Appeal Court. I’m sure some way could be found to achieve this if there was sufficient political pressure and the judicial will, but these are both sadly lacking.

Mind you, I would not be too confident of such an appeal producing a fair and sensible result.

[Here are my responses to the pretexts that the Scottish Government have put forward for refusing to set up an independent inquiry:]

Reason 1 "The questions to be asked and answered in any such inquiry would be beyond the jurisdiction of Scots law and the remit of the Scottish Government, and such an inquiry would therefore need to be initiated by those with the required power and authority to deal with an issue international in its nature."

Answer This misrepresents what the petition asks the Scottish Government to do.

The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament "to urge the Scottish Government to open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988." It does not ask for the establishment of a general inquiry tasked with finding out the truth about the Lockerbie disaster. This would, of course, be beyond the powers of the Scottish Government under the Scotland Act 1998.

The petition asks for an inquiry into the conviction of a person by a Scottish court. This might involve consideration of --
*the police investigation of the tragedy;
*the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the downing of Pan Am 103;
*the conduct of the Crown Office in preparing the prosecution;
*the trial in the Scottish Court in the Netherlands;
*the acquittal of Mr Fhimah and conviction of Mr al-Megrahi;
*the rejection of the first appeal;
*the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's referral of Mr Al-Megrahi's case to the Court of Appeal;
*the dropping of this second appeal;
*the compassionate release of Mr al-Megrahi.
Each and every one of these matters is within "the jurisdiction of Scots law and the remit of the Scottish Government".

Reason 2 "The Scottish Justice Secretary made it clear that under the powers devolved to Holyrood no worthwhile scrutiny could be ordered here because there would be no powers to compel witnesses." (

Answer An inquiry constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005 ( does have power under sections 21, 22 and 28 to compel witnesses and to compel the production of documents and other evidence. Indeed, the relevant powers of such an inquiry are greater than those of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission under sections 194H and 194I of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Yet, with even its limited powers, the SCCRC was able to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the Megrahi conviction, involving the interview of many witnesses and the consideration of thousands of documents and other items of evidence, and to reach conclusions based thereon.

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