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Lockerbie Air Disaster: Trial Prospects

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 30 July 1998

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3.27 p.m.

Whether they will consider making arrangements for an international venue to try the two persons accused of the Lockerbie disaster under Scottish law in a neutral country.

My Lords, although I remain committed to a trial in Scotland, I can confirm that I have considered alternative ways of securing my objective of bringing the accused to justice. We are currently involved in discussions of a highly complex nature and full consideration must be given to all the legal and technical aspects of such an initiative before a final decision can be made. It would be quite inappropriate for me to say any more at this time. I can assure the House that any steps that I take will be in accordance with my independent responsibility to discharge my duty as prosecutor.

My Lords, I should like to give a very warm welcome to the tone of the noble and learned Lord's Answer; indeed, it is the first sign of flexibility on the issue after nearly 10 years since the disaster occurred over Lockerbie. Will the noble and learned Lord at least recognise that there are many people who believe that if the authorities remain obdurate on this question there might never be a trial and we would never discover the truth of what happened at Lockerbie?

Will the noble and learned Lord accept that there is international unease at this stalemate and that the bereaved families themselves are pressing for the solution that I have put forward in this Question? Will he also recognise that citizens of some 13 nations were killed in this disaster, but that if the bomb had gone off either 10 minutes or 10 minutes later it would not have been in Scottish jurisdiction? If ever there was a major international crime, this was one.

My Lords, I fully recognise all the points made by the noble Lord as I was involved in the Lockerbie incident from the outset. I was junior to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, when he was Lord Advocate, at the public inquiry.

I am fully aware of the concerns of the families but the primary consideration for me must be to ensure a proper trial in accordance with Scots law in Scotland. If that cannot be achieved, other considerations will be taken into account. However, the overriding consideration must be to ensure that whatever arrangements are made do not interfere with the ability of the prosecution to conduct the case without any prejudice, nor to interfere with the interests of the defence, and that both of those interests are safeguarded. If those conditions cannot be met, I shall not prosecute anywhere other than in Scotland.

My Lords, many of us in this House will be reassured by the noble and learned Lord's repeated and proper preference for a trial in Scotland of those accused of the Lockerbie murders. We strongly support his reassertion of his primacy in this matter as the independent public prosecutor in Scotland with a lonely responsibility and not a collective one. We offer that support particularly in the light of the clumsy, constitutionally improper and badly leaked efforts of the Foreign Office to usurp the noble and learned Lord.

If he takes an irreversible step to hold the trial outside Scotland—we understand why he might wish to contemplate that, given the decade of agony and uncertainty that the relatives of the victims of Flight Pan Am 103 have endured—I hope he will understand that, in spite of our understanding of why he is possibly looking to a way forward, we must reserve the right to scrutinise whether any agreement he reaches brings the prospect of a trial closer or whether it merely offers the opportunity for endless further wrangling from Tripoli.

My Lords, I welcome the comments of the noble and learned Lord about the lonely office of Lord Advocate. I can assure the noble and learned Lord that I share his concerns about the press speculation as to what has been going on. I have been assured by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that it is not responsible for such leaks. In relation to the scrutiny of the agreement, if any agreement is reached the terms of that agreement and any necessary orders will, of course, be made available to your Lordships for consideration. I repeat that my sole consideration is to ensure that the prosecution of the accused is in accordance with Scots law and will take place preferably in Scotland. It will not take place outwith Scotland unless my two criteria are satisfied. I referred to those criteria when answering the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.

My Lords, I refer to the proceedings before the International Court of Justice raised by Libya against the United Kingdom and the United States. I seek the noble and learned Lord's assurance that, in reaching his decision on whether the trial may take place overseas, he will have regard to the existence of that litigation because there may be an argument that it would be highly undesirable for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate to agree that the trial should be held in the Hague, or anywhere else, if at the same time Libya continues the action it has raised against this country and America.

My Lords, the proceedings before the International Court of Justice are effectively civil proceedings relating to the interpretation of the Security Council resolutions and the applicability of the Montreal Convention. I am fully aware that these proceedings are continuing. At the present time I am involved in drafting and revising pleadings for the next stage. If a criminal trial were to take place either in Scotland or outwith Scotland, there may well be a case for making an application to the court to assist these proceedings, but that is further down the line.

My Lords, I assure the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate that I fully respect the integrity and independence of his office and welcome everything he has said this afternoon. Will he confirm that the Security Council resolution on this subject refers to a trial either in Scotland or the United States? Accordingly, in arriving at his future conclusions, will the noble and learned Lord confirm that he is in touch with his opposite numbers in Washington?

My Lords, as I have indicated, there have been detailed, complex negotiations which have involved myself with people of equivalent standing in other countries and officials. Clearly I am aware of the existence of the Security Council resolutions. The existence of those resolutions will be taken into account in any agreement, should agreement be reached.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate accept that calls which have been made in the past to Lord Advocates that evidence in this case should be revealed in advance of a trial are totally inappropriate and could be prejudicial to the accused?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those comments. It is not the practice of the Lord Advocate ever to disclose evidence other than in the course of a trial. I do not accept that it would be appropriate to disclose the evidence while there is the prospect of a trial.