FROM THE BLOGSITE OF PROFESSOR ROBERT BLACK QC.
[Yesterday's decision by the High Court of Justiciary dismissing the posthumous appeal on behalf of Abdelbaset Megrahi receives extensive coverage in UK and overseas media. A selection, courtesy of Google News, can be found here.
An attempt by the family of the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing posthumously to clear his name has been rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland.
The family of Abdul Ali Baset al-Megrahi had appealed his conviction after a ruling by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) that “it was in the interests of justice” that his case was reconsidered.
Mr Anwar said that Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted man’s son, said that his family had been “left heartbroken by the decision of the Scottish courts, (but) maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya”.
The family has instructed its legal team to appeal to the UK Supreme Court and an application will be lodged within two weeks. (...)
Megrahi previously lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002. Five years later the SCCRC recommended that he should be granted the second appeal, which he later dropped.
Al-Megrahi insisted in his authorised biography, published in the year of his death, that a Scottish government decision to agree his early release from prison was conditional on his decision to drop his second appeal.
He said that Kenny MacAskill, who was then the Scottish justice secretary, had suggested the deal to a Libyan government official.
In the latest appeal the court was not asked by the SCCRC to consider a tiny fragment of circuit board, believed to have been from the bomb’s timer. This, campaigners insist, was a key piece of evidence that could have cleared al-Megrahi’s name.
After this morning’s decision the al-Megrahi family demanded the release of secret evidence held by the UK government that they believe incriminates others such as Iran and a Syrian-Palestinian group. (...)
In December, on the 32nd anniversary of the bombing, William Barr, the US attorney-general, announced new criminal charges against an alleged bombmaker involved in the atrocity.
Abu Agila Masud, another former Libyan intelligence officer, allegedly admitted to assembling the bomb that blew up the plane as it passed over Lockerbie en route from London to New York. Masud was the third person to face charges in the attack after al-Megrahi and another Libyan, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were charged nearly 30 years ago. Fhimah was found not guilty in 2001.
It was Mr Barr who announced the charges against al-Megrahi and Fhimah in 1991, saying at the time: “This investigation is by no means over.” Al-Megrahi’s supporters claim that Mr Barr’s recent intervention weighed heavily on the appeal court judges.
A source said: “For the judges to overturn the conviction would be absolutely momentous and I don’t think they have the stomach for that. William Barr piled on the pressure by announcing new indictments. It was too much of a hot potato for them.”
Mr Anwar said the first ground for appeal — that “no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted” — was built largely around the evidence of Tony Gauci, who died in 2016.
In the 2001 trial, Mr Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, identified al-Megrahi as the man who bought clothes from him that were later packed in a suitcase containing the bomb. After the trial it was disclosed that he had received $2 million from the US authorities.
In his judgment Lord Carloway said the original trial had given due consideration to Mr Gauci’s identification.
Mr Anwar said the second ground of appeal — the failure to disclose information to the defence — hinged on a “compatibility issue” arising from a question relating to a breach of human rights. This will be the basis for the application to the Supreme Court.
[A further article in The Times, headlined System cannot admit it made mistake with Lockerbie, says lawyer who designed first trial contains the following:]
The Scottish court system is unable to acknowledge that a mistake has been made, the lawyer who designed the 2001 Lockerbie trial has said.
Robert Black, emeritus professor of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, drew up plans to enable a Scottish court to sit on neutral territory in the Netherlands but when the trial ended he was convinced that he had witnessed a miscarriage of justice.
He said yesterday that the Scottish criminal justice system was unable to acknowledge “a mistake has been made” in the conviction of Abdul Baset al-Megrahi and it was “a matter of grave concern” that the most recent appeal had been so narrowly restricted to certain legal areas. The Scottish Criminal Case Review Committee allowed al-Megrahi’s posthumous appeal on only two grounds: that the verdict had been unreasonable and that some evidence had not been disclosed to the defence.
Four other grounds for appeal were rejected by the committee, including evidence about a fragment from a circuit board and a theory that the suitcase that contained the bomb had not been loaded onto an aircraft in Malta.
The Crown argued that the circuit board, part of a timing device, was one of many sold to the Libyan government by Mebo, a Swiss company. It was found in the remains of a shirt collar, which in turn led to a shop in Malta owned by Tony Gauci. Campaigners for al-Megrahi say forensic analysis has shown the circuit board was coated in pure tin and not in a tin-lead alloy, the only kind supplied by Mebo. Independent scientists, consulted by the Crown, had noticed the difference but maintained the tin fragment and the tin-lead amalgam were “similar in all respects”.
Professor Black also cited evidence the bomb suitcase was put on at Heathrow before luggage from Malta arrived.