Lockerbie and the SCCRC — A primer from Law Professor Robert Black

“I regard the Lockerbie verdict against Megrahi as a ‘Grand Monument to Human Stupidity’.  Indeed, the written opinion of the Lockerbie judges is a remarkable document that claims an ‘honoured place in the history of British miscarriages of justice.’ If the [SCCRC] Commission accepts the application for a full review, the infamous Zeist verdict doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving.”

INTEL TODAY — July 5 2017

Professor Robert Black

The Lockerbie disaster was Europe’s worst terrorist outrage, but was it also Britain’s biggest miscarriage of justice? On Tuesday July 4 2017, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission [SCCRC] confirmed that it has received a new application to review the conviction in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi. Professor Black — who is known as the architect of the Lockerbie trial — explains for INTEL TODAY the role and competence of the SCCRC. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

RELATED POST: Remembering Lockerbie — Pan Am 103 Quotes

RELATED POST: LOCKERBIE — SCCRC press release on Megrahi application

RELATED POST: When the Washington Post rewrites History

RELATED POST: Ambassador Andrew Ivy Killgore (1919-2016): Lockerbie Trial Was a Cover-Up


The SCCRC is a statutory body that came into existence on 1 April 1999 under an Act passed in 1997. Its remit is to consider convictions alleged to amount to miscarriages of justice and to refer deserving cases to the Appeal Court. Its members (at least one-third of whom must be lawyers) are now appointed by the Scottish Government.

Before 1999 if a convicted person who had exhausted all rights of appeal claimed that there had been a miscarriage of justice, all he could do was petition the Secretary of State for Scotland (a government minister) to recommend the Queen to grant a Royal Pardon.

The case would then be investigated either by civil servants in the Secretary of State’s office or by a lawyer (often a QC) specially appointed by the Secretary of State who would make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.

A law reform committee thought it was wrong that a government minister (a politician) should be taking these decisions and that no court was involved in the process, and so the SCCRC was set up.

For the SCCRC to refer a case back to the Appeal Court the Commission must be satisfied

(a) that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred and

(b) that it is in the interests of justice that a reference should be made.

[Here’s what I said in an email to you on 24 April:]

“I am optimistic about the outcome of the Megrahi family’s forthcoming application to the SCCRC. In June 2007 the SCCRC decided, on six grounds, that there might have been a miscarriage of justice.”

“Since then even more evidence has come to light casting doubt on the verdict (not least Dr Morag Kerr’s masterly analysis of the bomb-damaged luggage, which demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the bomb suitcase was ingested at Heathrow, not Luqa in Malta).”

“My only slight worry is how the SCCRC will apply the “interests of justice” requirement (ie not only must the Commission be satisfied that there might have been a miscarriage of justice, it must also be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice for there to be a fresh appeal).

It is possible to envisage the SCCRC saying that there have already been two appeals (the first of which Megrahi lost and the second of which he abandoned) and that it is not in the interests of justice for there to be a third bite at the cherry.

I am reasonably optimistic that the Commission will not adopt this approach — the Megrahi conviction still casts a dark shadow over the Scottish criminal justice system and is far from being generally accepted as just by the public in Scotland and elsewhere.

I would expect the SCCRC to take the view that it is in the interests of justice in Scotland that an appeal take place that can remove this dark shadow, one way or the other.”

Since the previous Megrahi application to the SCCRC (decided in 2007) the law has changed to limit the scope of any appeal to the specific grounds of referral found by the Commission.

Before that, if the SCCRC referred a case, the grounds of appeal were not confined to those specified in the Commission’s report.

The history and present position are dealt with here: Effort to limit scope of Lockerbie appeal

About Lockerbie and Pan Am 103

For those interested in the Lockerbie Trial tragedy, I recommend the excellent blog of Professor Black: TheLockerbieCase. Those who want to study the forensic history of PT/35(b) will find many resources and original documents on the  PT35B blog. Also, you may want to check the blog of Dr Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph: The LockerbieTruth.

About Robert Black

Robert Black QC FRSE is now Professor Emeritus of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh. He has been a member of the Scottish Bar since 1972 and a QC since 1987. He has taken a close interest in the Lockerbie affair since 1993, not least because he was born and brought up in the town, and has published a substantial number of articles on the topic in the United Kingdom and overseas. He is often referred to as the architect of the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Lockerbie: Case closed

This film investigates the case against Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and finds evidence to suggest he may have been wrongly accused.



SCOTBOM: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation by Richard A. Marquise

Megrahi: You Are My Jury: The Lockerbie Evidence by John Ashton

Maltese man who determined Lockerbie bombing trial diesTimes of Malta

Lockerbie: J’accuse

Key Lockerbie witness Tony Gauci dies in Malta— BBCNEWS

The FOIA Request that Cost Agency Employee Jeffrey Scudder His Job  — UNREDACTED

CIA Role in the Pan Am 103 Investigation and Trial — CIA Website

CIA employee’s quest to release information ‘destroyed my entire career’ — WP July 2014

Lockerbie bombing: Megrahi family to launch appeal bid — BBC News

Robert Fisk: Do you know the truth about Lockerbie? — Independent


Lockerbie and the SCCRC — A primer from Law Professor Robert Black

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