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

What's in a name?

In the case of this blog, it's a name that had no particular thought or planning behind it - I had no idea whether I would actually want to keep it going, what I would blog about, or that anyone would ever read it. Well, it's almost 4 years later (17th June 2007 is blog birthday, if we're counting), and the blog's still here, so I think we can now safely assume that it's probably going to be sticking around. And the name's been getting on my nerves a have no idea the amount of people who have found this blog looking for ladies called Jennie Law or Jenny Law. Personally, I'm not actually called Jennie Law, so I'm no help to these poor searchers, although for the right fee I could maybe consider pretending to be... I also don't blog a huge amount about law: I'm not a lawyer, I just have the job of finding stuff for lawyers. Sometimes that process amuses me, sometimes it annoys me, and I blog about it. Sometimes I write about library is

cpd23 Week One - Blogging

So, week one of cpd23 begins, and participants are asked to set up a blog, if they don't already have one. Well, I've had this blog (in it's previous incarnation as "Jennie Law" for four years, so I think I'm good for the "setting up and getting used to blogging" part of Thing One :) I set this blog up originally as just somewhere to share the interesting things I found around the internet, with no real expectation of many others finding or reading it (and hence very little thought about a good name). At the time, there were only one or two other law librarians that I knew of blogging, so it didn't seem like it would be something long term, but for that moment, it felt good to be able to share some random thoughts with other law librarians, and to be able to learn from their blogs. I've stuck with it, despite a few periods of thinking "I've got nothing to say!" (and then finding a month or so later that I suddenly had a flood

Where are the UK Librarian blogs?

In response to various posts wondering about the strange lack of UK library / librarian blogs, I thought I’d have a look for myself to see where they’re all hiding. I did a search on Google Blogs, just using the words “ uk ” and “librarian”, and looked for posts published ‘anytime’, which gave me 24 pages of blog listings. This included spam blogs, duplicate postings, and various sites including ‘ uk ’ in the text of a link they’d posted. I learned a few things in the process. Lots of blogs post occasionally about librarians, without necessarily being written by librarians. If a blogger doesn't fill out their location information, it can be quite hard to work out where they're based without having to read a few posts and look for cultural references. “ UK ” also means "University of Kentucky ” ( See? ). There are quite a few interesting English language library bloggers, but they're not on this list 'cos they ain't in the UK. There really doesn’t