Skip to main content

Edinburgh International Book Festival - Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer

So, on Monday afternoon, it was time for the now-annual Scottish Law Librarians Group jaunt to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Every year, the Committee try and decide on an event that's as relevant to the members as possible (law related, Scottish issues, publishers with a Scottish interest), and at as convenient a time as possible...and that we can get enough tickets for. As you can imagine, that's not always an easy trick, but I think we did well this year, and even managed to get a day when the mud was minimal, despite the signs warning us about it!

The event chosen was Michael Mansfield. The info's gone from the site now, but it was:

Michael Mansfield Mon 31/08/2009
4:30 PM - 5:30 PM
From Ruth Ellis to Jean Charles de Menezes, Bloody Sunday to the
Marchioness disaster, Michael Mansfield has taken on many of the most
difficult cases of our times. The Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer recalls a
career defending the innocent (and sometimes the guilty), infuriating
the establishment and championing human rights, with wit, passion and

He's hit the headlines lately with his claims in his book that Princess Diana's death was not an accident, but on Monday he was more concerned, as were the audience, with the implications of the recent release of Abedelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, or the Lockerbie Bomber. Michael Mansfield was in attendance at much of the original trial, and indeed, his book begins there, and he read to us a small sample to illustrate, so he has a wealth of knowledge about the case.

In advance of the release of the related documents on Tuesday, and the Parliamentary debate / motion today, he made various points about unanswered questions which he hoped would be raised in the debate:
Why was Megrahis appeal not expedited when it became clear that his condition was terminal, as it would have been in England. He waited 2 years for his appeal to go through, and in the end it was dropped. Who or what stopped the case being reviewed as a priority?
What was the evidence the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on which based the referral of his case to appeal?
Why was he not returned to Libya on the Prisoner Transfer Agreement?

He also read from trial transcripts of the Maltese shopkeeper identification of Megrahi as the man who had made purchases in his shop. The shopkeeper seemed very unsure of himself, as is understandable. His initial identification of Megrahi was made 9 months after the alleged purchases, and the trial was 10 years after that event. As Mr Mansfield said, this is an incredbile timescale to be able to identify a man you served for 5 minutes. There was also confusion over when he saw photos of Megrahi, and the fact he identifed another individual, and changed his description of the suspect from interview to interview.

Mr Mansfield explained the concerns about where exactly the bomb had got onto the plane, and how it had got through security, wherever it had got on.

He believes no issues will be cleared up until there's a proper, judicial enquiry, something which he feels the current Brown/Blair government will try to block.

Woven amongst these discussions (and often linking to his belief the Megrahi was failed by the system) were other interesting snippets. He spoke of the Oscar Slater case, a Scottish miscarriage of justice which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was heavily involved in righting, and which helped lead to the founding of the Scottish Appeal Court in the 1920s(apparently the English one had been founded earlier in response to a similar miscarriage of justice there in the 1900s - I've not got time to fact check either of these statements).

He was heavily involved in the Stephen Lawrence case, representing the family in the private prosecution, and wearing a ribbon during his appearance at the event. He again raised the issue of being able to identify properly a suspect, not only in Stephen Lawrence's case, but also Megrahis. In both cases, idenitfication was based on one witness identification, and in Lawrences case, this was not enough.

Mr Mansfield then took questions from the audience.

The first asked about the Bloody Sunday enquiry, sitting for 10 years and not yet reporting, and whether this was why the Government tries to discourage public enquiries. His response was that that was a massive, historical enquiry involving thousands of witnesses, all of whom needed to be treated as being as important as each other. It was set up to fix what was seen as the whitewashing response of the first enquiry, so must be totally wide ranging. It's now almost ready to report, and has acted almost like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and other countries, to allow those hurt to face those who inficted the hurt, and let their voice be heard.

Another (slightly odd - there's always one) questioner pointed out the discrepancy in the height between Megrahi and the description given by his Maltese shopkeeper identifier. Mr Mansfield said that the height difference was understandable, few people are experts on height estimation, but his other descriptions were more seriously flawed.

Finally, he was asked about who's in charge of security, and where does "the buck stop" when it goes wrong. Mr Mansfield agreed there were serious questons needing answered about who knows what, and when. He gave the example of the London bombings, when initially all the security services denied knowing anything about the lead bomber...and it's since leaked out that at least some agencies did know about why did't they tell the others? And if it was true that they didn't know anything...then what was the point of having these agencies at all?

So, despite the attempts of various police and ambulance sirens to drown him out at least three times (one of the joys of being in a marquee), Michael Mansfield treated us to an interesting discussion on the ins and outs of the legal process, and the innocent victims it can sometimes create.

And Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, supervised it all from above...I think his horse was a bit tired by this's been a long Festival.


Popular posts from this blog

Careering along

When I look around at the activities of information professional groups, it seems that there’s a disparity. There’s quite often a lot of support and funding available for those who’re just starting out in the profession, but a desert of nothingness for those of us who’re “just getting on with it”. If you’re a new professional, you have lots of groups to support you as you progress in your early career, various prize funds available for essay and report writing, access to bursaries for conference attendance, eligibility for awards for being new and enthusiastic. But what do you get when you’re past that bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed first 5 years (5 years seems to be the approximate cut-off point for becoming “established” and no longer new). What happens when you’ve already received a bursary from an organisation earlier in your career and so wouldn’t be eligible for one now, meaning you’re not able to attend events or training? When you’re heavily involved in a project but not at

What if you don't get back what you put in?

I am, as you may know, a member of CILIP, the professional body for information professionals. There are two main reasons I'm a member. I am a Chartered librarian, and I take my commitment to maintaining this visible badge of my professionalism seriously. I have revalidated my Chartership within the previous assessment system, and I have submitted my Revalidation within the new system. To continue being a Chartered librarian, I must be a member of CILIP (although currently the commitment to continue to revalidate my Chartership is voluntary, and has been so for the length of my membership since approximately 2001). So I continue to be a member. I am a registered CILIP Mentor, and I help to guide those information professionals who are keen to be professionally qualified through the Chartership/professional qualifications process. I could not abandon midway through that process the people who are looking to me for guidance in their professional development. So I continue to be

Losing the professionalism

So, recently, CILIP apparently sent out an email regarding a consultation on a change of brand image, and name. I say apparently, as despite being a member, I never got this email. When I went to the website to log in and check why it wasn't sent to me, it didn't let me log in. I tried a password reset, and that email came through, so it *can* send emails to me...but the password it sent won't let me log in. I’m losing the will to keep trying. Overall, this is kind of symptomatic of how I feel about CILIP, and how useless its IT systems are.... Anyway, the consultation is on changing CILIP’s currently, clunky and meaningless name (picked as the best of a previous bad lot, as David McMenemy showed with this link to the 2000 consultation results ) to something more meaningful and relevant is open. If you want to take part, it’s here . I was a good girl, and pootled over yesterday to take part, and after filling in all the bumph, I got to view the glorious options. Oh. My.