Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Lockerbie: 23 years ago today

Addendum:  The following links may be of interest: Lockerbiecase and Daily Mail 22nd December.


21st December 1988 was the day when Pan Am Flight 103 - a Boeing 747 en route from London Heathrow to New York - was destroyed by explosive devices which detonated as the aircraft, flying at 31,000ft (FL310) approached the small Scottish town of Lockerbie.  A great deal of information about this event may be read at Pan Am Flight 103 (Wikipedia).  In all 270 people were killed: 243 passengers, 16 aircrew and 11 persons on the ground in Lockerbie.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) conducted a through investigation into the causes of the accident and published their report in 1990.

Subsequently, a trial was held at Camp Zeist, Holland.  Scots criminal law applied.  Two men were accused: Abdelbaset Al Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah.  The trial was conducted by three Scottish judges (Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and Maclean) and was heard without a jury.  (Scots Law usually requires a jury of 15 in "solemn procedure").  The legal authority for this trial was a Statutory Instrument - The High Court of Justiciary (Procedure in the Netherlands)(United Nations) Order 1998.   This order, "nodded through" at Heathrow Airport by Her Majesty, simply dispensed with jury trial - see Article 5(3) of the Order.  Her Majesty was on her way to Brunei and a Privy Council meeting was held at Heathrow Airport on 16th September 1998.

The opinion of the three judges concluded
that Al Megrahi was guilty of murder.  Al Fhimah was acquitted.  In June 2011, the possibility emerged that Al Fhimah might be retried - see The Lockerbie Case

Al Megrahi's case was examined by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission which prepared a report of 800 pages plus 13 volumes of Appendices.  On 28th June 2007, the Commission referred the case to the High Court of Justiciary.  However, in 2009, the Scottish Justice Secretary (Kenny MacAskill) decided to exercise his statutory power to give Al Megrahi compassionate release.  Also in 2009, Al Megrahi abandoned his appeal - see BBC 18th August 2009.  He was then returned to Libya.   It was said at the time that Al Megrahi had prostate cancer and had just 3 months to live.  He is still alive though, in August 2011, was reportedly close to death - The Guardian 30th August.  A controversial question is whether Al Megrahi's release was in some way conditional on him dropping his appeal.  The Scottish government has consistently denied that there was any link.

Mr Jim Swire is a man whose daughter Flora was killed at Lockerbie.  In his view it is questionable whether real justice has been done - see BBC interview 21st October 2011.  Mr Swire maintains his own blog - Lockerbietruth.    A further blog is that of Scots lawyer Professor Robert Black QC - Lockerbiecase.

Given the existence of a new government in Libya, what the future holds in relation to the case is unclear.

Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial - Wikpedia - gives information re the trial, the first appeal and the abandonment of the second appeal.

"Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi says west exaggerated role" - The Guardian 3rd October 2011.


  1. On the "exaggerated role" misquotation, see

  2. @ Robert Black - Many thanks. Here is the live link: Confusion over Megrahi interview

  3. Even at this distance of time, it is legally interesting to note the basis in law for the trial held at Camp Zeist. The High Court of Justiciary Order (link in the text above) was made under the United Nations Act 1946 s.1 which enables Orders in Council to be made to give effect to United Nations Security Council Resolutions made under Article 41 of the UN Charter. The relevant resolution here is UN SCR 1192 (1998).

    Plainly, section 1 of the 1946 confers a very scope on Ministers to implement UN resolutions. However, it is a moot point whether the section was really intended by Parliament to enable constitutional fundamentals of the United kingdom to be dispensed with - such as trial by jury. However, I am not aware of any legal challenge to the Order.