UK paperback

Miscarriage of justice

Framing Lockerbie

A Private Eye reader writes, in the current issue:

Your article “Libyan Takeaway” (Eye 1243) states that the UN observer at the trial in the Netherlands and some of the British victims’ families believe there has been a miscarriage of justice. The article, however, makes it clear that there was a perversion, not a miscarriage, of justice. The late Paul Foot’s special report gives it much greater detail.

Can we not call a spade a spade rather than a garden implement? A perversion of justice or a stitch-up — either will do.

It is true that “miscarriage” and “perversion” carry very different implications. “Miscarriage” is strictly impersonal, and invokes a chance failure of the system. A “perversion” of justice, on the other hand, requires one or more perverters, with intent to pervert. Perverting the course of justice is a crime; while a miscarriage of justice is just something that unfortunately went wrong. Of course, since perverting the course of justice is a criminal offence, it is not strictly justified to conclude that there has been a perversion in the Lockerbie case until such time as there has been identification and conviction of actual perverters. ((Background to the Megrahi case can be found in Hugh Miles’s 2007 article for the LRB, and also in Paul Foot’s “Lockerbie: The Flight from Justice”, for which Private Eye’s website wants £5. Of course I would never suggest that you go and see whether it is also available elsewhere.))

A propos of which, might it have been possible for news outlets reporting on the case over the summer to refer to “the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing” rather than “the Lockerbie bomber“?

  1. 1  Tony Woolf  September 14, 2009, 9:41 am 

    Once a person is convicted of a crime, the fact that they committed that crime is normally treated as an absolute fact. Everyone knows that miscarriages and perversions of justice can and do occur but everybody ignores it. It would make life far too difficult to recognise the indisputable fact that not everybody in prison is actually a criminal.

    I suspect that the more serious the offence, the more likely it is for an innocent person to be convicted, just because of the pressure to find someone to blame.

  2. 2  Steven  September 14, 2009, 9:53 am 

    Quite so. You are correct to insist that, as things stand, it is a legal fact that al-Megrahi is the Lockerbie bomber. However, in cases where there is ample reason to suspect that the original conviction was, er, “unsafe”, it is open to the public (including news organisations) to be circumspect about referring to that legal fact as a fact — as they regularly do when choosing to campaign about certain cases.

  3. 3  wh00ps  September 15, 2009, 7:41 pm 

    Of course, now that he has been released and presumably is no longer pursuing his appeal he will forever be known as “the lockerbie bomber.”

    this does not concern me too much as long as suspects do not get referred to in such a way before conviction.

    Even in cases where a miscarriage (or perversion) of justice are found to have occurred, those wrongfully convicted rarely escape some mention of the crime in their media references.

  4. 4  Steven  September 16, 2009, 10:03 am 

    There is more in the latest LRB.

  5. 5  ejh  September 16, 2009, 10:20 am 

    There was a similar theme with Winston Silcott – and similarly nasty in that newspapers, before Silcott’s release, felt quite at liberty to refer to people as supporting or campagning for “the murderer of PC Blakelock”.

  6. 6  Vidor  September 20, 2009, 1:36 pm 

    ***might it have been possible for news outlets reporting on the case over the summer to refer to “the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing” rather than “the Lockerbie bomber“? ***

    No. Such circumlocutions are no longer required once a person is convicted of a crime.

hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts