Standing Committee D
Tuesday 10 April 2001
[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]
Mrs. Gillan: I am pleased to hear that the Minister agrees.What safeguards are there to reassure me that that element of politicisation will not occur?
In its submission, the board expressed concern that the court could become a political tool to be used by states in dispute. I rely on the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in saying that it was theoretically possible for either side to demand the trial of national leaders in the event of an incident that led to violence or death. The board expressed great fear that that would result in a tit-for-tat scenario, which would discredit the court and damage the prospects for peaceful negotiations between two parties—to all intents and purposes, a truth and conciliation process.
As recently as yesterday, our minds were focused on the politicisation of courts. The Minister is doubtless a great reader of The Times, and we have already spoken about Scotland, but the newspaper contains a report about Hans Koechler, an expert on international law who acted as a United Nations observer at the Lockerbie trial. He condemned the proceedings of that trial as inconsistent, irrational and politically motivated, if the report by Gillian Harris, the Scotland correspondent for The Times, is to be believed. I have no reason to doubt the report, because those words were echoed by Mr. Koechler when speaking at a conference at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.
Mr. Cranston: He is a professor of philosophy.
Mrs. Gillan: The Solicitor-General is quite right, but Mr. Koechler was also one of five UN observers at the trial. He said:
cannot come out with a verdict of guilty for one and innocent for the
other when they were both being tried with the same evidence. In my
opinion there seemed to be considerable political influence on the
judges and the verdict.''
That Professor Koechler is a professor of philosophy is irrelevant; he is in a position to make an announcement on the world stage about a court that we spent much time and effort setting up. It is to the Government's credit that they did so. None the less, those were Professor Koechler's remarks.
I am also keen to cite the remarks of the spokesman for the Crown Office in Edinburgh who, according The Times report said that Professor Koechler's views were based on a
misunderstanding of the function and independence of the judiciary.''
particular, he misunderstands that in Scotland, as in other
English-speaking systems, criminal proceedings are adversarial, that is,
involving a contest between prosecution and defence rather than an
inquiry carried out by judges.''
The spokesman for the Crown Office is to be congratulated on—
Mr. Garnier: Not being a professor of philosophy.
Mrs. Gillan: Certainly on that, but also on his robust defence of the system that we set up. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the matter, the trial has caused political fallout and there is a disagreement on the particular trial process used. That should ring alarm bells. We established that court in good faith, in a spirit of fairness and after much negotiation, to bring to trial two people who were allegedly responsible for a heinous and terrible crime. Although we know that there was no political aspect to the court's deliberations, on the world stage it was suspected of being politicised.