Monday, 16 November 2020

With the kind permission of Professor Robert Black QC, the following news has just been released. 

The forthcoming Megrahi appeal

[What follows is excerpted from a long document recently produced by the Crown in connection with the forthcoming posthumous appeal against the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.]

On 6 March 2020 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the late Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi’s 2001 conviction for the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing back to the High Court of Justiciary. (...)

The current appeal stems from an application made to the SCCRC by Mr Megrahi’s family in July 2017. In April 2018 the Commission accepted that application and began a full review of Mr Megrahi’s conviction. In their 2020 statement of reasons the Commission summarised the application by Mr Megrahi’s family as being based on 6 grounds, they were:

1. Insufficient Evidence;

2. Unreasonable Verdict;

3. Fresh Evidence, namely the Christmas Lights;

4. Non-disclosure;

5. Evidence relating to the Timer Fragment; and

6. Evidence relating to the Suitcase Ingestion.

On 6 March 2020 the Commission published their Statement of Reasons, a lengthy volume setting out the findings of their review, and in conclusion referred the conviction back to the High Court of Justiciary for an appeal hearing.

The Commission concluded that they could only refer the conviction back to the High Court on two of the above six grounds: Unreasonable Verdict and Non-Disclosure.

In June 2020 those representing the family of the late Mr Megrahi lodged their Grounds of Appeal at the High Court of Justiciary, thereby formally beginning the third appeal against conviction in this case.

The Appeal Court is bound in law to hear the appeal on the grounds of appeals in so far as they are in line with the Commission’s reference, and there is also provision for the appellants to argue that they should be allowed to argue further grounds of appeal not covered by the Commission’s reference.

The grounds to be argued at the appeal, also referred to as the scope of the appeal, were argued at the preliminary hearing on 21 August 2020.

The Preliminary Hearing called before Lord Carloway the Lord Justice General, Lady Dorrian the Lord Justice Clerk and Lord Menzies at the Appeal Court on 21 August 2020. This was a virtual hearing of the Appeal Court. Submissions were heard from the Appellants, the Crown and on behalf of the Advocate General. (...)

The Grounds of appeal were numbered Part 1, and Part 2, A – D. Arguments were made by both sides as to the scope of the appeal and whether additional grounds of appeal, which did not form part of the SCCRC’s referral, could be argued in the appeal. The grounds of appeal which were matters referred by the SCCRC were automatically included in the scope of the appeal and no arguments were made in relation to them. These are:

Ground 1 - that no reasonable jury could have convicted Mr Megrahi based on the evidence;

and

Ground 2 Part A - the non-disclosure of information in relation to the evidence of Crown Witness Antony Gauci.

A number of documents were listed in support of Ground 2 Part A. However, one of them, (described as Part A, para 14 in the Grounds of Appeal), was not included in the SCCRC referral and has now been excluded by the Court from the appeal.

The Appellants argued that additional grounds of appeal in addition to the Commission’s grounds of referral should also be admitted, namely:

Ground 2 Part B - the non-disclosure of information in relation to the witness Abdul Majid, also known as Giaka;

Ground 2 Part C - the non-disclosure of information contained in protectively marked documents; and

Ground 2 Part D - the non-disclosure of other information which shows there was no effective system of disclosure to ensure a proper procedural safeguard to guarantee the right to a fair trial. This information was further divided into 7 distinct areas.

Parts B, C and D (and also one item from Part A) did not form part of the reasons for the referral by the SCCRC. They were points that the SCCRC considered and have commented on within their Statement of Reasons but which they did not consider were in the interest of justice to refer. The SCCRC did say, however, that the appellants might seek to include them within an additional ground of appeal.

The Crown position at the hearing in respect of the potential additional grounds of appeal inGround 2, Part A (item 14), Part B, Part C and one of the 7 areas in Part D was that whilst recognising it was ultimately a matter for the Court, the preference was that they were heard in the full appeal hearing because the Crown would wish to answer the points and consider it is in the interests of justice to do so because to leave the points unanswered may affect public confidence in the safety of Mr Megrahi’s conviction and the administration of criminal justice in Scotland more generally. In relation to part D above, the Crown asked for all but one of the 7 examples given to be excluded from the scope of the appeal.

After hearing all the arguments, the Court made avizandum (this means a pause) while they considered their decision. On 26 August 2020 the Court issued their decision on the scope of the appeal, and set out the procedure to be followed:

1. They allowed Mr Megrahi’s son, Ali Abdulbasit Ali Almaqrahi to bring the appeal on behalf of his late father.

2. They also allowed the appellants to proceed with some additional grounds of appeal that did not relate to any of the reasons set out by the SCCRC in its 2020 Statement of Reasons. These are as follows:

a) The Court allowed Ground 2, Part B to be heard at the appeal as an additional ground. This is with regard to information relating to the witness Abdul Majid, also known as Giaka.

b) In respect of Ground 2, Part C, which related to information contained in theprotectively marked documents, the court has not made a final decision about whether this will form a ground of appeal yet. Instead, it ordered that the documents in question be produced to the court and that a special hearing be fixed in a closed court in order to consider whether the Public Interest Immunity Certificate granted in respect of the documents should remain in place. A hearing took place on 11 November 2020. The result is awaited (...)

c) With regard to Ground 2, Part D, in which the appellants argued that there was not an effective system of disclosure to ensure that Mr Megrahi had received a fair trial, the court refused to allow this, excluding all 7 parts of it and the wider argument. It stated that it would not allow any ground of appeal to proceed which related to "system of disclosure which was not fit for the purpose of ensuring that all relevant information was identified and disclosed", the absence of a "robust system of disclosure", a "systemic failure of disclosure"; and “bad faith on the part of the respondent” (the Crown).

d) The court also set out that the hearing will start on Tuesday 24 November 2020 and the three following days. 

The Appeal Court will sit at 10am UK time from Tuesday 24th until Friday 28th November 2020. 

A bench of five Judges of the High Court of Justiciary will hear the full appeal hearing and rule on the merits of the appeal. They will be: 

The Right Hon Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice General

The Right Hon Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk

The Right Hon Lord Glennie 

The Right Hon Lord Menzies

The Right Hon Lord Woolman.

The Crown will be represented at the appeal by three Advocate Deputes: 

Ronnie Clancy QC

Douglas Ross QC  

Nick Gardiner

They also represented the Crown in the 2007-2009 appealfollowing the SCCRC’s 2007 reference  which was ultimately abandoned by the appellant. At the appeal hearing, as senior Crown Counsel, Ronnie Clancy QC will make the Crown’s submissions to the Court.

The appellants will be represented by Senior Counsel and Junior Counsel. They are respectively:

Claire Mitchell QC

Claire Connelly.

[RB: It appears that the hearing will once again take place by means of WEBEX, a video conferencing online application. Log-in information for members of the public wishing to follow the proceedings will presumably be made available in due course.]

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