Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Being economical with the truth over a Lockerbie trial

[What follows is an exchange during Scottish questions in the House of Commons on this date in 1998:]

4. Mr [Tam] Dalyell:  If he will make a statement on the recent findings of the international court relating to the (a) venue and (b) jurisdiction of the trial of those suspected of the Lockerbie bombing. [33158]
The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr Henry McLeish):  The International Court of Justice made no findings in relation to the venue or jurisdiction for the trial of those accused of the Lockerbie bombing, but has held that it cannot determine, as a preliminary issue, the effect of the Security Council's resolutions on Libya's claims under the Montreal convention.
Mr Dalyell:  Is it really more important that a trial should take place in Scotland than that any trial should take place at all?
Mr McLeish:  Those accused of acts of terrorism should not be able to dictate the venue or composition of the court before which they are to be tried. Scotland and the United States have exercised jurisdiction in that case, and Libya should now surrender the two accused persons for trial in either of those two countries, as it is required to do under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
Ms Roseanna Cunningham:  Does the Minister accept that, once a Scottish Parliament is up and running, given the devolution of powers over the legal system, a future Scottish Administration could decide to allow the Lockerbie trial to be held outwith Scotland? Does he accept that, if that happens, Westminster must not attempt to interfere with the decision?
Mr McLeish:  It is worth re-emphasising that both the United States and this country are sticking by an important principle: the solution to that problem lies in Libya, and it is vital that Libya abides by Security Council resolutions and delivers the two accused persons for a proper trial.
Mr Russell Brown:  I whole-heartedly agree with my hon Friend the Minister. There is great pressure on him to consider holding a trial in a neutral country, but, even if the Government were to consider doing so, must not the Libyan Government first give a clear guarantee that they would hand over the two suspects?
Mr McLeish:  Such a guarantee has not, to date, been forthcoming from the Libyans. It is important to repeat that the suspects should be given up. There must be a fair trial, and one has been offered within the jurisdiction of the United States or of Scotland. That is the best way forward. We expect the Libyans to abide by Security Council resolutions, and that is the simple matter on which the case rests at the moment.
[RB: On 12 January 1994 the chief defence lawyer for the two Libyan suspects, Dr Ibrahim Legwell, stated in writing (in response to a letter from me dated 10 January) that his clients were prepared to surrender themselves for trial before a tribunal operating under Scots law but sitting in a neutral country; on the same date, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya, Moussa Koussa, stated in writing that the Libyan Government approved of this solution. Further details can be found here.
In October 1997, during President Nelson Mandela’s stopover in Tripoli, en route to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh, Colonel Gaddafi confirmed that this remained the stance of the Libyan Government. On 15 January 1998 in the course of the television programme Words with Wark (in which I participated) Alistair Duff, the Scottish solicitor who represented the two accused men, reaffirmed that his clients wished to stand trial before a Scottish tribunal in a neutral venue, such as I had proposed in January 1994.
I therefore completely fail to comprehend what further “guarantee” the minister and those who supported him could have honestly expected from “the Libyans”.]

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