THE Westminster Government set out a "remarkable" proposal yesterday for judges to go into private session during a preliminary hearing in the Lockerbie bomber's appeal.
Under the plan, claimed to be in the interests of national security, not only would the public be excluded, but Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's legal team would also be denied entry. He is seeking access to a classified document, and a vetted lawyer would be appointed to represent his interests at the hearing.
The behind-closed-doors session of the Court of Criminal Appeal would be the first of its kind in Scotland.
"This may initially seem remarkable, and I accept that," said Lord Davidson, QC, the Advocate-General for Scotland, on behalf of the foreign secretary, David Miliband. "This is an area of very considerable difficulty and one forced on the government because of extraordinarily difficult times...in the prevention of terrorism," he added.
Megrahi's lawyers are expected to give their response to the proposal today .
The former Libyan intelligence officer is serving a life sentence in Scotland after being found guilty in 2001 of bombing Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 and murdering 270 people.
He lost an appeal in 2002, but last year the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case back to the appeal court. One of the reasons cited was that there may have been a miscarriage of justice because the Crown had not disclosed to the defence a document which an unidentified country, not the United States, had provided to the UK government in 1996. It is understood the paper relates to the timer alleged to have been fitted in the bomb.
Megrahi's defence team petitioned the appeal court, seeking access to the document and related papers. In response, Mr Miliband issued a public interest immunity (PII) certificate, stating: "It would cause real harm to the national security of the UK because of damage to counter-terrorism liaison and intelligence gathering between the UK and other states."
The appeal court has said there should be a hearing to consider the merits of the foreign secretary's public interest immunity plea. The current hearing is to determine the procedure to be followed at the hearing on the merits.
Lord Davidson said the Government was entitled to take steps to protect UK security.
His proposal was that the document be disclosed to a five-strong appeal Bench and a "special representative" who would look after Megrahi's interests.
ABDELBASET Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was born on 1 April, 1952. He is a former intelligence officer, head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines and director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli.
On 31 January, 2001, he was convicted, by a panel of Scottish judges sitting in the Netherlands, of 270 counts of murder for his part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December, 1988.
His co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted. Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment and is serving his sentence in Greenock prison. His first appeal was rejected in 2002, and he was granted leave in 2007 for a second appeal.