Thursday, 3 May 2018

SCCRC deserves "great credit" for deciding to review Megrahi case

[What follows is excerpted from a report by Mike Wade published this afternoon on the website of The Times:]

A review of the evidence against the man found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing is to be held, to determine whether his family can lodge an appeal against his conviction.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) ruled that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi had abandoned a previous appeal in 2009 “as he held a genuine and reasonable belief that such a course of action would result in him being able to return home to Libya”. At the time he had terminal cancer.

(...)He was jailed for 27 years in 2001 but died of prostate cancer aged 60 in 2012, three years after his release on compassionate grounds.

SCCRC chief executive Gerard Sinclair said: “In any application where an applicant has previously chosen to abandon an appeal against conviction, the commission will look carefully at the reasons why the appeal was abandoned and consider whether it is in the interests of justice to allow a further review of the conviction.”

In this case, Mr Sinclair said that all the available evidence suggested al-Megrahi’s fight against cancer, and his desire to die with his family, had caused him to abandon his legal action.

In a statement, al-Megrahi’s family welcomed the SCCRC decision. “The reputation of the Scottish law has suffered both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi,” the statement said. “It is in the interests of justice and restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that these doubts can be addressed, however the only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the appeal court, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.”

Jim Swire, who has long campaigned for an appeal, said he heard the news of the review “with great pleasure”.

Dr Swire, whose daughter died in the atrocity, was one of a number of observers of al-Megrahi’s trial in 2001 who has rejected its verdict.

He said that the SCCRC should be able to complete its work swiftly, after finding a number of grounds for appeal following an earlier review of the case, which reported in 2007.

“No one should forget that the SCCRC previously spent three years looking at the case and they found six reasons why the verdict might be incorrect,” Dr Swire said. “One would imagine that this time there should be no significant delay in their review of the case.”

Robert Black, the eminent lawyer who designed the 2001 trial, held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, said it was “to the great credit” of the SCCRC that it decided to review the case. He too rejects the verdict against al-Megrahi.

“There is genuine concern about this conviction,” Professor Black said. “It was [the QC] Ian Hamilton who said, ‘I don’t think there is a lawyer in Scotland who believes al-Megrahi was properly convicted.’ That may be extreme, but it is tending in that direction.

“No lawyer can read that judgement, and say, ‘Yeah, they nailed it.’ It’s quite the reverse.” Al-Megrahi lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002.

Five years later the SCCRC recommended he should be granted the second appeal, subsequently dropped by al-Megrahi because of his ill health. His family lodged a posthumous appeal last year.

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