Lockerbie prosecution team chief leaves Lord Advocate´s office
16/02/2000 *** updated: 22/02/2000
This page will keep you informed about the latest development in the resignation of Lord Hardie as Lord Advocate and chief prosecutor in the upcoming Lockerbie Trial. Latest news at end of page, updated daily the next few days. 
Come and join the discussion: Is the resignation of Lord Hardie so close to the start of the rial a sign of weakness in the prosecution?
Will Colin Boyd be able to carry on Lord Hardies work, or is he next to resign ? Who was behind the crash of Pan Am 103 ?
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Lockerbie Trial Prosecution Chief resigns as Lord Advocate only 12 weeks before start of trial

Lord Hardie: Last man leaving the prosecution, turns off the lights!17/02/00 BBC, Reuters etc. In a surprise move, Scotland's senior law officer Lord Hardie, has resigned from the devolved Scottish government and moved to the bench as a judge. Lord Hardie, who was the Lord Advocate, will also lose his role as prosecutor in the trial of the two Libyans suspected of the Lockerbie bombing.

The prosecution of the two men accused of the Lockerbie bombing could be undermined by that sudden resignation of Scotland's senior law officer, it has been claimed. Lord Hardie was head of the Scottish prosecution team which is preparing the case against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, which is due to start in the Netherlands on 3 May.

One Scottish senior source said it was suggested that several "key witnesses" now denied making comments previously attributed to them. "When they came to prepare the papers for the trial, they discovered that the evidence is not as solid as they thought it was. Much of it has come from foreign sources, especially the FBI, and when they looked at the witness statements and expert reports, the case started to crumble," the source said.

One source said: "I think the prosecution's case is unravelling, and (Hardie) has resigned because he doesn't want to be left holding the parcel when the case falls apart." The Scottish National Party's justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham said: "It has been rumoured for some time that there are doubts on the sufficiency of the evidence in this case. "Clearly, I am not in a position to know the truth of that. "However, given that this Lord Advocate has taken key decisions in the case, the fact that he is not going to be in his job when the trial begins and comes to a conclusion may raise questions in some quarters as to why he is leaving now."

Reaction from Lockerbie-relatives:
Dr Jim Swire , who represents some British relatives of those who died, regretted Lord Hardie's departure but said: "I don't think this will necessarily adversely affect the functioning of the prosecution during the trial."

And a government source is quoted as saying it was "complete nonsense" to link the decision with worries about the solidity of the Lockerbie case. "Five lord advocates have now had a look at this and agreed there was a case. We would not have taken the case to court if we thought three judges were going to throw it out or say there was no case to answer."

Pamela Dix, of Surrey, who lost her brother Peter in the bombing, said: "The timing is most unfortunate and I was very taken aback when I heard. I am very disappointed that this has happened. "Lord Hardie had a history with the Lockerbie case and you cannot lose all that knowledge and background without some effect on the case. I can’t help but be worried by the resignation and what it means."

John Mosey, of Worcestershire, whose daughter Helga died, said: "Of all the Lord Advocates we had dealt with on this case Lord Hardie was the most amenable and helpful. He went to great lengths to keep us in touch with what was happening and it gave us great hope when he said there was a convincing case. "Our worst fear is that these two men would be innocent but found guilty, or guilty but found innocent. Now I am also worried that Lord Hardie realised he was on a sticky wicket. No-one would want to go down in history as the lead prosecutor in the most expensive legal case in history if it flopped."

In the US, Georgia Nuchi, who lost her son Christopher Jones, said: "It looks like the case is going belly up. I am an attorney and I was never happy with the quality of the evidence, so I am not surprised that this has happened. "From the get go there have been problems with the FBI evidence here, problems with the identification of the two suspects, who I am sure did not mastermind the bombing."

Dan CohenDan and Susan Cohen , whose daughter was among the 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 crashed on the Scottish town in 1988, said they were "scared and horrified" by Lord Hardie's departure. "Does he fear this is a bad case?" asked Mrs Cohen. "Is there some scandal breaking elsewhere? What are we supposed to think?". "When we met the Lord Advocate in Washington last summer, he told us he would be there to oversee the trial. I am appalled and amazed at a moment like this when you have a major trial that you have never had in your history, that the Lord Advocate just decides to leave."

Aaron Brody, a US lawyer who represents the families of six Lockerbie victims, said: "The families are horrified that the trial could be disrupted by the resignation of the Lord Advocate. His sudden resignation to become a judge raises many ethical questions. He has put his career ahead of the very people he was supposed to be helping."

But Paul Hudson, whose daughter Melina died, said that, while he was disappointed by Lord Hardie’s sudden resignation, he believed that other people central to the prosecution remained in place. He said: "I would be more worried if the prosecutors themselves – the people actually presenting the evidence in court – walked off the case."

Stephanie Burnstein, whose husband Michael died on the Pan Am jet, said : "It left me dumbfounded. This is the largest criminal case in Scottish legal history. "The prosecutors under Lord Hardie must be demoralised. I don't have confidence in the prosecution now." Ms Burnstein's husband had worked as a prosecutor for the department of justice in the States, and she said she felt the departure of Lord Hardie did not bode well for the case.

Legal comments:

Professor Robert BlackScottish law expert comments on Hardie-resignation:
Lord Hardie's move to the bench was criticised by Dr. Robert Black , a professor of law at Edinburgh University, who has argued that it was a breach of European human rights legislation that the Lord Advocate, as chief prosecutor, could also nominate judges. Prof Black said: "It is bad enough that the Lord Advocate should be appointing judges at all. It is one hundred times worse that he is able to nominate himself."

Prof Black said that Lord Hardie appeared to have won the confidence of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims, so he was "somewhat surprised" that he had left the job just before the trial started.

Lord Hardie is likely to be succeeded by the current Solicitor General Colin Boyd, who is also on the prosecution´s team in the Lockerbie trial. "If Boyd does take over, he will have less of a role in the case than (Hardie) otherwise would have had," Robert Black told Reuters.

More lagal + political comments:
Austin Lafferty, a lawyer and presenter of BBC Radio Scotland's Lawful Business programme, said: "Lockerbie is safe in that the preparation and the conduct of the trial has been handed down to Colin Boyd, who is already there as a senior member of the team. "If anybody can pursue the matter appropriately, Colin Boyd can." But he went on to criticise Lord Hardie's lack of planning for the introduction of the European Convention of Human Rights to Scots law.

"The problem is the Scottish legal system has not been geared up for the European Convention of Human Rights coming in. "The system cannot cope, is not designed to cope and was never audited to make sure it could cope," he added.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, two lawyers who are also MSPs, expressed the two vastly different points of view in the debate. The Scottish National Party's justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham said: "The timing of this is bizarre and almost unbelievable which makes me feel there must be something a good deal more to this than meets the eye. "We've already seen the confidence of the relatives is affected by this decision and I think that's absolutely predictable that that was going to happen. "My own personal feeling is that he has gone because of the mess over the European Convention on Human Rights. "I think he has just got himself out of that particular mess because I think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better and I really just don't believe that Lord Hardie wanted to hang around and get any more of the public criticism that he was under."

Gordon Jackson QC, a Labour MSP, said: "The Lockerbie prosecution is carried out by two very, very experienced senior Queen's counsel. "If they went under a bus there may well be a problem but the change in the law officer is not going to affect that prosecution. "But I don't think it's right for people to suggest, and therefore fan some fears that may be there that somehow this will adversely affect that prosecution. "That is not fair, it is not right and it won't happen."

The leader of Scotland's pro-independence nationalists, Alex Salmond, said it was unforgivable for Dewar to allow Hardie to resign so close to the trial. The Tories also waded into the row over Lord Hardie's sudden elevation from the post of Lord Advocate to the High Court Bench. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Lothians), an advocate, accused Lord Hardie of "betrayal" of the Lockerbie victims' families to whom he had promised personally to oversee justice, a remark which Mr Dewar said Lord James would "live to regret". Mr Salmond mocked the departed Lord Advocate, Scotland's chief prosecutor, for having "done a bunk" because he wanted to make himself a Judge just before the Lockerbie trial, and also claimed he had "let Scotland down in the eyes of the world". Mr Salmond took his cue from the American mother of a Lockerbie victim who told BBC Scotland she was "appalled and amazed" the Lord Advocate had quit just before the biggest murder trial in Scotland's history.

With Labour still rattled by the hostile reaction to Lord Hardie's decision to go to the Bench while Scots law is facing a traumatic series of upheavals caused by the adoption of European law, Mr Dewar sat grim-faced as Mr Salmond accused the Lord Advocate of breaking his promises to the American mother. Mr Dewar said he accepted the seriousness of the issue, but described Mr Salmond's assault as "a little over dramatic".

Hardie rejects claims he bailed out - Interview with Lord Hardie

18/02/2000 THE HERALDThe former Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, yesterday angrily rejected accusations that he had left the Lockerbie families in the lurch by resigning to become a judge. He said he would like to be remembered as a friend of the Lockerbie relatives and described as "outrageous" suggestions that he had "jumped ship" because the Lockerbie prosecution was dead in the water.

Lord Hardie said that if he had thought at any time there was not enough evidence to prosecute the two men accused of the Lockerbie atrocity he would have "pulled the plug" rather than waste millions of pounds. He was speaking yesterday at Parliament House in Edinburgh after he attended the installation of new judge Matthew Clarke QC.

Lord Hardie said he had been pleased to read a quotation from Mr Jim Swire, whose daughter was a Lockerbie victim, that he had been a friend of the Lockerbie relatives and added: "I would like to be remembered as that. "I am certainly not abandoning the Lockerbie relatives. That would be the last thing that I would ever want to do." He said he had discussed with relatives the appointment of two leading QCs who had been working solidly on the case long before the accused were delivered.

Two junior counsel were also involved and 10 procurators-fiscal were working full time on the Lockerbie team. He pointed out that the new Lord Advocate, Mr Colin Boyd QC, had been the man in the driving seat, supervising preparations for the Lockerbie case. "It's not a case of leaving a great vacuum. The preparation will continue. "Colin Boyd will continue to be core man and I would anticipate that he will be involved in the prosecution at Zeist."

He condemned as outrageous suggestions that he had bailed out as Lord Advocate because the Lockerbie case was a "dead duck". "First of all it calls into question not only my integrity but the integrity of the prosecution system in Scotland. "The Crown does not prosecute anyone unless there is a sufficiency of evidence. To suggest that any Lord Advocate would mount a prosecution of any sort far less a prosecution abroad costing a substantial sum of money for the sake of appearances is outrageous. "On paper there is sufficient evidence. At the end of the day it will be for the court to decide what it makes of that evidence and it will depend on what witnesses say. "If I had ever thought that there was insufficient evidence to justify proceeding with this case I would have pulled the plug."

Lord Hardie has suffered unprecedented criticism in almost three years as Lord Advocate but he insisted yesterday that he had not been driven out of office by his critics. "I think you would need to be blind and deaf not to have realised that some people have criticised me over the years. That's one of the privileges, if that's the right word, of being in public office. "So I was under no illusion when I took the job as Lord Advocate. I've got a fairly thick skin and like anyone in public office you've got to consider the criticism and take it on board if it is appropriate. "I wouldn't like my critics to think that they had succeeded in persuading me to leave office. They have not. "I think it's always unfortunate that people personalise things. I'm sad that the debate has on occasions been reduced to that."

Lord Hardie said he had decided to become a judge because the time was right. There was a need for judges because of Lockerbie, Lord Cullen's involvement with the Paddington Inquiry and two recent retirements. He had also spent near six years in public office as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Lord Advocate. He said the question of his appointment to the Bench had been under consideration for "a few weeks" and was discussed between First Minister Donald Dewar and Lord Rodger, the Lord President of the Court of Session. "I was not involved in these discussions. So to say that I appointed myself is not accurate." The first requirement for the job was ability and he hoped that no-one would doubt his credentials on that score.

Colin Boyd appointed new Lord Advocate

18/02/2000 BBC NEWSColin Boyd QC has become Scotland's senior law officer with ultimate responsibility for case against two Libyans suspected of the 1988 bombing. Mr Boyd was solicitor general and was heavily involved in the prepapation of the prosecution's case, but stepped up when Lord Hardie suddenly resigned to become a judge. Scotland's new Lord Advocate has promised to meet relatives of those who died in the Lockerbie bombing to reassure them that the prosecution remains on track.

Mr Boyd said: "I hope to get in touch with families as soon as possible and travel to the United States and to meet any of them who would wish to meet me." Mr Boyd's appointment as Lord Advocate was proposed by First Minister Donald Dewar and ratified by the Scottish Parliament. His former post as solicitor general has been taken by leading commercial lawyer Neil Davidson QC. They now need Royal approval. While it has been custom and practice for the Lord Advocate to be a peer, it is not mandatory.

Background info:
Until his appointment as Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC has been Solicitor General and assisted the former Lord Advocate, with particular responsibility for prosecutions. Called to the Scottish Bar in 1983, he was an advocate depute from 1993 to 1995 and took silk in 1995. Mr Boyd is a legal associate of the Royal Town Planning Institute and contributed to a book, The Legal Aspects of Devolution, which was published just before the 1997 General Election. He is married with three children and lives in Edinburgh.

Why the Lord Advocate Resigned: rumors or facts ?

22/02/00 A report in the Sunday Herald newspaper said today that Lord Hardie resigned as Lord Advocate "because he realised that the Lockerbie case was a shambles and would probably end in acquittal for the two Libyan defendants." Citing alleged defects in the Crown's evidence, the paper quotes a source close to the case as saying: "There will be weeks and weeks on how the plane was blown out of the sky. The world's press will become so bored that they will stop attending and on one quiet day the prosecution will admit that none of the evidence can be linked to the two men in the dock."

Scotland on Sunday also speculated as to why Lord Hardie resigned at this particular time, suggesting that the reason may never be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The paper said that a source pointed to a senior US justice official having written the Lockerbie script. "The script required that the Libyans did it. It was written on the assumption they would never come to trial. Now they are, the whole thing is unravelling. Hardie does not want to be the one left holding the baby."

The Sunday Herald quotes Dr. Jim Swire, spokesman for the British Lockerbie families, as saying, "I can't see whay Lord Hardie should want to evade this trial unless he was seriously worried about the outcome." Lord Hardie has repeatedly stated that his resignation had nothing to do with the Lockerbie trial and that, if he had had doubts about the evidence, he would have "pulled the plug." He also stated that his resignation will not affect the conduct of the trial itself.

Background info:
Read the articles mentioned above:

  • Sunday Herald article about Lord Hardie´s resignation 20/02/00
  • Scotland on Sunday´s article about Lord Hardie´s resignation
  • additional Sunday Herald article: "Hanging in the Balance" 20/02/00