Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lord Advocate 'reprimanded' over Crown Office refusal on Lockerbie disclosure

Lord Hamilton, Scotland's most senior judge has been forced to 'reprimand' the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini over the 'delays' on handing over evidence in the Lockerbie bombing case to the defence team of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 under Scots Law.

Delays some may say, but most feel the Crown has been prevaricating from the very start, with no intention of handing over any documents whatsoever ...

Playing for time seems to be a habit at the Crown Office ... playing with justice a merle triviality ...

The Herald reports :

Judge raps law chiefs for delays to Lockerbie document

LUCY ADAMS, Chief Reporter

The row over the Crown's refusal to disclose a top-secret document vital to unearthing the truth about the Lockerbie bombing has descended into "farce".

At a special procedural hear-ing yesterday, Scotland's most senior judge was forced to reprimand Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, and Neil Davidson, the Advocate General, for their failure to provide adequate reasons to the court and the defence.

Lord Hamilton, the Lord President, said he was "deeply disappointed" with the delays.

The Advocate General, a legal post intended to link the Westminster Government with the devolved Scottish administration, asked the three appeal judges to regard his arguments as "a work in progress".

Lord Hamilton said it was "quite unsatisfactory" that lawyers on the Crown side were not better prepared.

The hearing raised serious arguments about devolution and the interference of the UK Government, as the Advocate General, its most senior legal adviser on Scottish legal issues, argued that he should make the decision.

In a written submission to the defence, he claimed that the document should not be disclosed for reasons of public interest immunity but failed to provide the required reasons or certificate.

The defence team argued that the Lord Advocate, the chief prosecutor in Scotland and the holder of the document, should make the decision and provide reasons if she chooses not to disclose.

As the court discussed why the document has still not been disclosed, Alex Salmond, the First Minister, spoke of his disappointment with the UK Government for failing to deliver on a promise to ensure Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the bombing, would be excluded from any prisoner transfer deal.

He warned that, without an exclusion clause, any prisoner who was refused a transfer could seek a judicial review by going to the courts, taking the matter out of government hands.

The row comes on the eve of the 19th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, in which 270 people died when PanAm 103 was blown up in 1988.

The secret document from an unnamed foreign country is thought to be about the MST13 timer which allegedly detonated the bomb.

The document was discov- ered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission team, which spent three years investigating his conviction. Using its enhanced powers, the commission compelled the Crown to show it the document and decided the contents were sufficiently important for a court to have concluded the conviction could have been a miscarriage of justice.

The commission referred the case back to the court in June after ruling that there were six grounds on which a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, including non-disclosure.

Margaret Scott, defence QC, said: "When it comes to criminal proceedings, it's for the Lord Advocate to assert public interest. There are not two chief prosecutors in Scotland, there is one."

Advocate-depute Ronnie Clancy, QC, defended the position, claiming it was an issue reserved for the UK Government as it involved international relations.

"The view was taken by the Lord Advocate that the public interest immunity should be left to the UK Government because the subject matter of the plea was likely to be a reserved matter," he said.

Professor Robert Black, one of the architects of the original trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, said: "This is turning into a complete farce. The whole thing is a shambles and shows the weakness of the Lord Advocate. That she should be prepared to abrogate her decision on disclosure and public interest immunity is disgraceful."

A number of further hearings are planned for January and February for lawyers to argue about public interest immunity, defence access to items of evidence being stored by police, and about how wide the scope of the eventual appeal will be.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the tragedy, said: "I cannot see why the Advocate General is getting involved in this irrelevant attempt to delay the court proceedings. The Lord Advocate is the head of the prosecution and should be handling this."

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