Scotland


These being items of topical, local and thematic interest…

After all those sneering, leering news reports and salacious commentary pieces we’re told that Gareth Williams wasn’t killed as part of a “kinky sex liason“. Well, if that’s correct it’s no surprise: it always sounded unlikely. One hopes that the press will learn a lesson before dribbling on the scenes of future killings but, of course, they won’t.

So, what’s the new idea? Well, the Police are now claimed to believe that Williams might have died “while taking part in a bizarre experiment for an art project“. Right. The theory is that he climbed into a bag and zipped and locked it shut as part of research for a course entitled “Fashion Design For Beginners“. His tutor is not amused…

The police did come to see me. The idea that his death and his work on the course was linked is a crazy idea that the police dreamed up. They said it might relate to it but I can’t see how it relates at all.

To be frank, nor can I. For all that there was scant evidence that Williams was into bondage an enthusiast for sado-masochism would at least have a clear motive for getting in the bloody bag. Meanwhile the Police have delayed their inquest. One fondly hopes that this is really due to “new twist[s]” they’re investigating and not, say, the need to dream up yet another story.

Those of you who’ve followed my pieces on Lockerbie may not be too surprised to hear that there’s been no real progress. In a culture of frenetic, fevered news updates one might imagine that important things can be distinguished by how much airtime and column space they’re given. This is a bit like thinking you can winkle out the deepest insecurities of a person as they’ll always talk about them.

Anyway, the Scottish government first claimed they didn’t have the power to hold an inquiry into Megrahi’s conviction. Now, as hundreds of people and the Scot’s Petitions Committee echo Justice for Megrahi‘s call they’ve admitted that they do have the power to – just not enough for it to be effective. And besides, they add, perhaps thinking if no one’s called their bluff so far they’ll get away with anything, “the Government does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi“.

Alas, as Jim Swire and Robert Forrester note in their reply, not only was the verdict based on meager and largely discredited evidence, it was disputed by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. And if the SCCRC could reach that bold conclusion with the power it wields why can’t the Scottish government? It’s akin to a hulking bodybuilder moaning that he can’t possibly lift a weight while his younger brother gaily juggles with it in the background. Even if the verdict was sincere this is grubby stuff.

It’s sweet how papers think they’re bastions of dissent. Via Medialens I see The Guardian has claimed to have “unmasked” supposedly repentant yet still money-grubbing police mole Mark Kennedy. Er, sorry guys but Indymedia pipped you to the post by a mere ten weeks. Tsh, you go for a coffee and some rascal scoops you right under your nose. Damn parasitical bloggers.

“There’s no doubt about the safety…”

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I submit to you that if Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s children thought he was guilty they’d be unlikely to launch an appeal once he was freed. Certainly, their father has always insisted he’s been wronged. (And, despite popular rumour, his government hasn’t blamed him.) Sure, one, some or all these parties could be lying or deluded but – still – it’s interesting.

If indeed they press for an appeal they’ll face several hurdles. As Robert Black notes, the Scottish government has instituted a disgraceful, widely-condemned policy beneath which judges can decide whether or not to grant appeals against rulings that they have made. Does it make me a dreadful cynic to suggest that people can’t always be trusted to be ruthless in bringing themselves to book? The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission has challenged the verdict but the courts may still discreetly look the other way. The full SCCRC report won’t even be released as under recent legislation they’ll only disclose it if all of the parties that provided information give consent. One of Megrahi, the police or the government seems to have refused this and, as Megrahi has informed us it wasn’t him, it’s not unreasonable to suspect it was a body of the state. Either way there’s been no real attempt to help smooth its release.

All these knotty complications have ensured the government isn’t challenged on its stated view that there’s “no doubt about the safety of Megrahi’s conviction“. No? Then why do lawyers, family members, MSPs and their own gol’ darn’ body of reviewal think there should be more inquiry?  If such people can’t win their attention what hope do the – one suspects – unloved Megrahis have? Well, they won’t listen to us so we’ll just have to wish ‘em luck.

Earlier this month I wrote on a measure shovelled through the Scottish Parliament. It allows the High Court judges to decide whether a ruling from the Case Review Commission justifies their holding an appeal or not. In other words, if there’s a verdict they’ve no wish to reconsider they’ll have carte blanche to ignore it. Now, via Robert Black, I find the SCCRC is none too pleased

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has joined the growing clamour of concern about section 7 of the Criminal Procedure (Legal Assistance, Detention and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 2010, passed by the Scottish Parliament last month, with Commission chairman Jean Couper saying there is “no evidence” that the provisions in section 7 of the new Act were required.

She added that the new section was “a fundamental constitutional change in the role of the Commission and in its relationship with the appeal court in Scotland.”

She said the provision “risks undermining the role of the Commission as an independent arbiter of issues relating to alleged miscarriages of justice.”

It’s claimed that the measure is a temporary one and will be reconsidered in due course. Naturally, if you just release the claimant before their appeal has begun you can bypass all this legal faffle and avoid embarrassment. It’s a bit like the expulsion of a dim schoolgoer on the eve of their exams. Well – until some people start to ask the awkward questions.

Before my brief, post-punctured absence – hereby cut short: the television’s dire tonight – I noted this extraordinary claim…

A Scottish Government spokesman said there was no doubt about the safety of Megrahi’s conviction.

The spokesman’s either uninformed or lying. No doubt? Jesus, if they’d claimed they thought there was no doubt they could at least defend it on the grounds of ignorance. A proclamation quite as bold as their’s, however, should send even the most epistemologically idle thinker into a fit of dubiety. The verdict was based on contradictions, bad procedure and very little evidence. Again, though, you don’t need to trust a cosmic schmuck like me – the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission ruled(pdf) that its safety was just as doubtful as that of a clapped-out Reliant Robin. In laying claim to certitude, then, the spokesman showed lusty contempt for their state’s reviewal procedures. And, considering this largely ignored nugget o’news, why not?

The Scottish government has been accused of using newly enacted (…) legislation to push through a law that will prevent supporters of the Lockerbie bomber from appealing his case.

A clause buried in the emergency legislation that followed the British Supreme Court’s ruling on “the Cadder case” allows High Court judges to have the final word on whether an appeal should be heard on their own ruling on a case.

In other words, if the Review Commission challenges a verdict they’re not mad-keen to revisit they can simply flick it aside and claim(pdf) it’s “not in the interests of justice“. They’re the judge, jury and while not quite executioner they are the appeals court. They’ve made an SCCRC ruling about as effective as a review of, say, Lady GaGa. It might provoke a few ripples on the internet but people, by and large, will act as if it never had been.

The Telegraph’s scornful profile of Alex Salmond claims that “Wee Eck, as he is unflatteringly known in Scotland, remains in the dock of American opinion over his freeing of the Lockerbie bomber“. Meanwhile David Cameron’s acting like a Mother telling off her child before a stern, aggrieved stranger he’s bumped up against. “No dinner – er – devolution for you, you naughty, naughty nation.” Yes, our Northern friends are being decried, demeaned and, frankly, bullied. Why do they put up with it? Their Review Commission fully backs a new appeal. Their head Human Rights Commissioner has challenged Megrahi’s guilt. As have some of their foremost lawyers and legal scholars. Yet Salmond and other high-ups won’t even question the verdict. They’ve submitted to a beating that is neither just nor sincere. That implies great masochism or curious machinations. Not sure which is creepier.

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