After the 1707 Act of Union, Scotland held onto three things that distinguished it from its southern neighbour; the kirk, or Church of Scotland, its education system and its own legal system. Scottish people tend to be proud of all three. Therefore, a couple of sentences will be spent on the first two institutions before two examples that refer to the legal system will be looked at; one where Scots law differs from English law and the other where it is beginning to show remarkable similarities.
Firstly, the church, with its, doctrine of predestination, the elected and the damned and all of that nonsense, its strict adherence of the sabbath and its, “you will burn in the fires of hell” attitude, is as gobbly gook as other churches and when it comes to putting the fear of god into innocents it is right up there with the wahabbi version of sunni islam. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that western civilisation has arrived at a point in time where it is par for the course to separate church and state, our presbytarian friends would probably be modelling their own little intolerant theocracy on the desert kingdom, oh, and what about the education system doesn’t that produce free thinkers who would prevent this happening? Well, while scottish universities have produced some brilliant minds, a lot of real fucking idiots have gone and are going through the school system and, indeed, in my day, some of them even got up to university where they could always study theology, if no other faculty would have them. Of course, today anybody can get to university and not only in Scotland. Still, there is, in fact, a fine balance up in Scotland where the brilliant minds and free thinkers continue to exercise an influence, but only just, only just and if you don’t believe me, take yourself along to a Rangers versus Celtic game.
Finally, that brings me to the “respected” Scottish legal system and I did have a sort of respect for it when in 1974 I was about to invoke a clause in Scots law called “minority in lesion” to get out of the British Army. It would appear that the contract I signed in Scotland as a 16 year old was not binding as I was a minor, whereas under English law my signature as a sixteen year old along with that of my mother would have meant my refusing to sign again at eighteen would have meant I was commiting a breach of contract. Anyway there was the army telling me that if I didn’t reduce my contract to at least another three years they could oblige me to serve automatically for another nine. Anyway, I was about to set a legal precedent that would have had at least the not so not so daft “jocks” refusing to sign up for their Queen’s shilling at which point the Army then decided to give me the order of the boot and let me pursue the rest of my life. My affection for Scottish law was immense and I walked out into civvy street convinced that the Scottish legal system is just dandy. Until, that is, what John Pilger refers to as “The Great Lockerbie Whitewash” came along.1
When I was a young man I would invariably find myself hitching up the A74 back to Glasgow and a couple of times I would stop off in Lockerbie for a cup of coffee and so it was that at some point in late January or early February 1990 I got to see the great big holes where a couple of houses used to be and they were not not too far from the little town’s centre. Yes, we were over the border and this was definitely something for the Galloway constabulary to look into. Seriously though when it came to trying the perpetrators under Scots Law, I was all for it. The problem was that when the trial came along it was a farce and one theory is that it was a farce because the CIA didn’t want a drugs run through Frankfurt Airport, that they were using to facilitate their little political games, to be uncovered.2 Whatever, the nature of the farce, a farce it was and when it led to the acquital of Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah but the conviction of Abdel bassset Ali al-Megrahi on 270 counts of murder and a subsequent life sentence for the latter it brought shame and disgrace on the Scottish court. Indeed, it puts Scottish justice right up there with its English counterpart.
“Lockerbie bomber with prostrate cancer may be freed to go home” is one of the headlines in today’s ‘Independent’, which goes on to say, “It is unclear whether an agreement to repatriate Megrahi would mean the end to an appeal he has launched to quash his conviction over the destruction of PanAm flight 103, leading to 270 deaths in December 1988.” While adding, “Some members of the victims’ families have said they would not object to Megrahi’s early release. Jim Swire, whose daughter, Fiona, was killed, said: “I think the cancer is a very serious threat to his life and it would be a tragedy if he is to spend what is left of the rest of his life in a Scottish prison, particularly if he is not guilty of the crime of which he was found guilty.”3 “it would be a tragedy if he is to spend what is left of the rest of his life in a Scottish prison, particularly if he is not guilty of the crime of which he was found guilty.”Yes, it would and Jim knows and I know that the verdict on January 31, 2001 by a panel of Scottish Judges sitting in a special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands was a triumph for the CIA but a slap in the face for the families who had lost their loved ones and who are still awaiting justice. It was, moreover, the day the great “independent” Scottish judiciary had its “Guildford Seven”.4
1 “The Great Lockerbie Whitewash” in John Pilger’s edited “Tell Me No Lies”
2 Ibid pp 219, 220
The picture above shows Abdel bassset Ali al-Megrahi at the time of his trial.
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