23 January 2011

SG: No Lockerbie Case inquiry...

Belated, but worth mentioning that the Scottish Government has finally replied to Holyrood's Public Petitions Committee on its attitude towards an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie Case. After their November session, taking oral evidence from Jim Swire and others on the Justice for Megrahi petition, the Committee posed three questions. The petition itself calls:

"...on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988."

Robert Black QC has described the following response as a "wafer-thin pretext for inaction". Judge for yourselves.


Thank you for your letter of 12 November 2010 which asks the Government the following three questions in respect of this petition. I apologise for the delay in replying.

Will you open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988 as called for by the petitioner and for the reasons given in the petition?

If not, will you provide a detailed explanation why not, specifying whether there is any legislation which would prevent you from holding such an inquiry, what this legislation is and how it prevents?

Who would have the power to undertake an inquiry in the terms proposed in the petition?

The Government’s response to these questions is as follows:

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice made clear in his response of 16 September to a Parliamentary Question (S3W-35844) from George Foulkes on this issue that the Government have no plans to initiate an inquiry on this issue.

The Government does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi. He was tried and convicted by a Scottish court before three judges and his appeal against conviction, heard by a panel of five judges, was unsuccessful. A second appeal, following a referral from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, was abandoned by Mr Al-Megrahi. The conduct of his defence during his trial and the appeals, including his decision not to give evidence at trial and the decision to abandon the second appeal, was entirely a matter for Mr Al-Megrahi and his legal advisors.

The Government’s view is that the petition is inviting the Scottish Government to do something which falls properly to the criminal justice system i.e. inquire into whether a miscarriage of justice has taken place. The criminal justice system already provides a mechanism for that to happen. The fact that Mr Al-Megrahi chose to abandon his second appeal rather than pursue it is entirely a matter for him and it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to institute an inquiry as a result.

The Inquiries Act 2005 provides that, to the extent that the matters dealt with are devolved, and criminal justice is devolved, the Scottish Government would have the power to conduct an inquiry. However, the wide ranging and international nature of the issues involved (even if the inquiry is confined to the trial and does not concern itself with wider matters) means that there is every likelihood of issues arising which are not devolved, which would require either a joint inquiry with or a separate inquiry by the UK government.

Separately, the Scottish Government intends to bring forward legislation to allow the SCCRC to publish a statement of reasons in cases such as Mr Al-Megrahi's where an appeal is abandoned, subject of course to legal restrictions applying to the SCCRC such as data protection, the convention rights of individuals and international obligations attaching to information provided by foreign authorities.

Karen Rodger
Committee Liaison Officer


  1. The SG response seems fair enough to me. I don't really see what they are supposed to do or what an enquiry held by the Scottish Government would achieve. Does anyone believe that the UK or US Governments would reveal all because the Scottish Government asks them to? If they haven't told us all they know over the past decades it does not seem likely that they are going to spill the beans now.

    Presumably the supporters of an enquiry think it would be worthwhile holding one to establish that fact - but I think most people would judge that to be a waste of time.

  2. For my own part, I haven't had time to quite decide what I make of the Scottish Government's response. While I'm generally in favour of a further and if necessary extra-judicial inquiry into the case, I recognise the difficulties you allude to, Indy. The outstanding question, it seems to me, is why have an inquiry? what goals are you seeking to pursue? What failures to solicit the relevant information would you be satisfied by? For my own part, I don't find it immediately conclusive against any inquiry that evidence may be difficult to secure. One man's waste of time is another man's murk brought to light, which at least clarifies the extent of our "known unknowns", if I can borrow a phrase. Or attests to their mute, significant presence. However, it strikes me that one's approach to this issue will largely follow from a more basic judgement about why you might entertain the prospect of such a process in the first place and what you would want it to achieve - and at what cost.

  3. I don't know, I understand the anger some people feel but I really don't see what they expect the Scottish Government to do that would be of any practical value.

    It's maybe about recognising that "the Government" can't fix everything.