Tuesday 21 April 2015

Libyan agreement to neutral venue trial confirmed

[What follows is an article headlined Lockerbie trial agreement published in The Herald on this date in 1998:]

The two men suspected of causing the Lockerbie bombing could soon be handed over for trial in a neutral country, reports claimed yesterday after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi met British representatives, writes Ron MacKenna.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was among the 270 who died in the disaster a decade ago, and Professor Robert Black, from Edinburgh University, had a 40-minute meeting with the Libyan leader in Tripoli on Monday. They said the talks were "of some substance" but refused to elaborate. However, Egypt's Middle East News Agency quoted Ibrahim el-Ghoweily [RB: normally anglicised as “Legwell”], a lawyer for the suspects, as saying the two sides had agreed "to hold the trial in a third country with a panel of judges headed by a Scottish judge and in light of Scottish law".

The talks indicate movement towards ending the seemingly intractable problems over having the two men accused of the outrage tried. Both Britain and the United States both want to try the men but Libya has so far refused to surrender them to either country, saying they will not get a fair trial. El-Ghoweily said Dr Swire and other representatives of British relatives will "work to convince" Britain and the United States "that the trial should be held in a third country".

Libyan officials have apparently indicated they are prepared to compromise, allowing a trial before an international panel headed by a Scottish judge. British relatives would prefer the trial to be held in Scotland but many have indicated they would agree to it being held in a neutral country, possibly the Netherlands. El-Ghoweily said both sides had agreed on Monday on "the importance of avoiding prejudiced jurors and any country in which the media or other factors would influence the trial", and wanted the hearing to take place "as soon as possible".

The British and American governments argue that the accused men should not be allowed to dictate conditions for their trial and they are concerned that there will be no jury.

[A press release issued at the end of the visit to Libya by Dr Swire and me between 18 and 20 April 1998 reads as follows:]

A meeting to discuss issues arising out of the Lockerbie bombing was held in the premises of the Libyan Foreign Office in Tripoli on the evening of Saturday 18 April 1998.  Present were Mr Abdul Ati Obeidi, Under-Secretary of the Libyan foreign Office; Mr Mohammed Belqassem Zuwiy, Secretary of Justice of Libya; Mr Abuzaid Omar Dorda, Permanent Representative of Libya to the United Nations; Dr Ibrahim Legwell, head of the defence team representing the two Libyan citizens suspected of the bombing; Dr Jim Swire, spokesman for the British relatives group UK Families-Flight 103; and Professor Robert Black QC, Professor of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh and currently a visiting professor in the Faculty of Law of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

At the meeting discussion focused upon the plan which had been formulated in January 1994 by Professor Black for the establishment of a court to try the suspects which would:
* operate under the criminal law and procedure of Scotland
* have in place of a jury an international panel of judges presided over by a senior Scottish judge
* sit not in Scotland but in a neutral country such as The Netherlands.

Among the issues discussed were possible methods of appointment of  the international panel of judges, and possible arrangements for the transfer of the suspects from Libya for trial and for ensuring their safety and security pending and during the trial.

Dr Legwell confirmed, as he had previously done in January 1994, that his clients agreed to stand trial before such a court if it were established.  The representatives of the Libyan Government stated, as they had done in 1994 and on numerous occasions since then, that they would welcome the setting up of such a court and that if it were instituted they would permit their two citizens to stand trial before it and would co-operate in facilitating arrangements for that purpose.

Dr Swire and Professor Black undertook to persist in their efforts to persuade the Government of the United Kingdom to join Libya in accepting this proposal.

On Sunday 19 April 1998, Professor Black met the South African ambassador to Libya and Tunisia, His Excellency Ebrahim M Saley, and discussed with him current developments regarding the Lockerbie bombing.  He also took the opportunity to inform the ambassador of how much President Mandela's comments on the Lockerbie affair at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October 1997 in Edinburgh had been appreciated.

On Monday 20 April, Dr Swire and Professor Black had a meeting a lasting some 40 minutes with the Leader of the Revolution, Muammar al-Qaddafi.  Also present were the Libyan Foreign Secretary, Mr Omar al-Montasser, and Mr Dorda.  The Leader was informed of the substance of the discussions held on Saturday 18 April, and expressed his full support for the conclusions reached.

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