Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission

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Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
Logo of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.png
Agency overview
Type executive non-departmental public body
Jurisdiction Scotland
HeadquartersPortland House, 17 Renfield Street, Glasgow, G2 5AH
Minister responsible
Agency executives
Parent department Justice Directorate, Scottish Government
Parent agency Scottish Government
Key document
Scotland in the UK and Europe.svg
Scotland in the UK and Europe

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is an executive non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government, established by the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (as amended by the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997).

The Scottish Government is the executive in Scotland for areas of public policy which are not reserved. The government was established in 1999 as the Scottish Executive under the Scotland Act 1998, which created a devolved administration for Scotland in line with the result of the 1997 referendum on Scottish devolution. Following increasing use of the name "government" in place of "executive" during the first decade of the 21st century, its name was formally changed in law to Scottish Government by the Scotland Act 2012.


The Commission has the statutory power to refer cases dealt with on indictment (ie solemn procedure cases) to the High Court of Justiciary. This was extended to include summary cases by Statutory Instrument on 31 March 1999, [1] immediately before the Commission took up its role in April 1999.

An indictment is a criminal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that use the concept of felonies, the most serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that do not use the felonies concept often use that of an indictable offence, an offence that requires an indictment.

High Court of Justiciary

The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court in Scotland. The High Court is both a trial court and a court of appeal. As a trial court, the High Court sits on circuit at Parliament House or the former Sheriff Court building in Edinburgh, or in dedicated buildings in Glasgow and Aberdeen. The High Court sometimes sits in various smaller towns in Scotland, where it uses the local sheriff court building. As an appeal court the High Court sits only in Edinburgh.

Though funded by the Scottish Government, investigations are carried out independently of Scottish Ministers, with the Commission being accountable to the Scottish Parliament on matters of finance and administration.

Scottish Parliament Devolved parliament of Scotland

The Scottish Parliament is the unicameral legislature of Scotland. Located in the Holyrood area of the capital city, Edinburgh, it is frequently referred to by the metonym Holyrood.

Public administration public leadership of public affairs directly responsible for executive action

Public administration is the implementation of government policy and also an academic discipline that studies this implementation and prepares civil servants for working in the public service. As a "field of inquiry with a diverse scope" whose fundamental goal is to "advance management and policies so that government can function". Some of the various definitions which have been offered for the term are: "the management of public programs"; the "translation of politics into the reality that citizens see every day"; and "the study of government decision making, the analysis of the policies themselves, the various inputs that have produced them, and the inputs necessary to produce alternative policies."

Governance and administration

The Commission is headed by Chief Executive, Gerard Sinclair, and staffed by a Director of Corporate Services, 2 Senior Legal Officers, 6 Legal Officers and 3 admin support staff. Eight Legal Officers and one Senior Legal Officer are required to deal with the Commission's normal case load. In order to review the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Commission sought approval from the Scottish Executive Justice Department for the appointment of 2 additional Legal Officers and 1 Senior Legal Officer.

Gerard Sinclair LLB is Chief Executive of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC).

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was a Libyan who was head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli, Libya, and an alleged Libyan intelligence officer. On 31 January 2001, Megrahi was convicted, by a panel of three Scottish judges sitting in a special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, of 270 counts of murder for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 1988 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His co-accused, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, was found not guilty and was acquitted.

The SCCRC has a Board of Management of 8 members appointed by Her Majesty The Queen on the recommendation of the First Minister of Scotland. As of 28 July 2018, its current members are:

First Minister of Scotland position

The First Minister of Scotland is the leader of the Scottish Government. The First Minister chairs the Scottish Cabinet and is primarily responsible for the formulation, development and presentation of Scottish Government policy. Additional functions of the First Minister include promoting and representing Scotland in an official capacity, at home and abroad, and responsibility for constitutional affairs, as they relate to devolution and the Scottish Government.

By statute, at least one third of the Commission's members are required to be legally qualified (either an advocate or solicitor of at least 10 years' standing) and at least two thirds must have knowledge or experience of the criminal justice system.

The Board members and the Chief Executive are required to work together to ensure that the Commission runs efficiently and effectively.

Remit and jurisdiction

The Commission's role is to review and investigate cases where it is alleged that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in relation to conviction, sentence or both. The Commission can only review and investigate cases where the conviction and sentence were imposed by a Scottish Court (the High Court, a Sheriff Court or a Justice of the Peace Court), and when the appeal process has been exhausted.


The SCCRC can investigate both solemn and summary cases. It will conduct a thorough, independent and impartial review and investigation of all cases accepted for review. The Commission has wide-ranging powers of investigation. After the review has been completed the Commission will decide whether or not the case should be referred to the High Court. If it is decided to refer a case, the case will be heard and determined by the High Court of Justiciary as if it were a normal appeal.


The main aims of the Commission are:

Confidentiality and disclosure

The Commission operates under strict statutory non-disclosure provisions, and cannot disclose any information about individual cases. The Commission can disclose the fact that a case has been referred to the High Court but will not release any information regarding cases in which no referral has been made or in respect of cases under review.


As at 31 March 2007 the SCCRC had received a total of 887 cases since April 1999, when it was established. The Commission completed its review of 841 of these cases and referred 67 of them to the High Court. Of the referrals, 39 have been determined: 25 appeals were granted; 11 appeals rejected; and, 3 abandoned. Chief Executive, Gerard Sinclair, says that normally the court rules about half the referrals to be a miscarriage of justice each year, which would equate in 2003 to roughly 0.005% of the total number of Scottish criminal convictions. But, says Sinclair: "Even if it were just one wrongful conviction a year, that would still be one too many."

Budget and expenditure

The Scottish Government agreed an SCCRC budget of £1.2m for 2008–09.

Lockerbie bombing

Megrahi's 2003 application

Former SCCRC member, William Taylor QC, who acted as Senior Counsel for Megrahi at the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and at his appeal in 2002, resigned as a Commissioner on 23 September 2003. This was the same day as the SCCRC received an application from solicitors acting on Megrahi's behalf, requesting that it review his conviction. Megrahi's appeal against his 27-year minimum jail sentence was scheduled to be heard in Edinburgh before a panel of five Judges on 11 July 2006. [3] This July hearing was, however, postponed to allow the question of the venue for the appeal (Edinburgh or Camp Zeist, Netherlands) to be resolved. [4] On 1 November 2006 Megrahi was reported to have dropped his demand for the appeal against sentence – and any further appeal against conviction that the SCCRC might award – to be held at Camp Zeist. [5]

SCCRC's decision

In January 2007, the SCCRC announced that it would issue its decision on Megrahi's case by the end of June 2007. [6] On 17 June 2007 The Observer confirmed that the SCCRC's decision was imminent and reported:

"Abdelbaset al-Megrahi never wavered in his denial of causing the Lockerbie disaster: now Scottish legal experts say they believe him." [7]

On 28 June 2007 the SCCRC announced [8] its decision to refer the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal for Megrahi's second appeal against conviction, having concluded:

"that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items [clothes that were found in the wreckage of the plane] from Mary's House [in Malta] took place on 7 December 1988."

It is anticipated that preparation for the appeal before a panel of three Judges in Edinburgh could take as long as a year.

International observer's view

Professor Hans Köchler, who was appointed by UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to observe the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands was reported to be baffled by the SCCRC's four-year delay in reaching a conclusion. Köchler said:

"In my experience as observer of the Lockerbie trial, the Roman law system is superior to the common law system (practised in Scotland), particularly in matters of criminal law. It is indeed revealing that it takes the SCCRC so many years (that are apparently needed, inter alia, for secret negotiations between the governments of the involved countries) to announce its decision on whether there should be a retrial in the Lockerbie case or not." [9] [10]

Following the SCCRC's decision on 28 June 2007 to refer the case back for a second appeal, Köchler expressed surprise at the focus of the Commission's review and its apparent bias in favour of the judicial establishment:

"In giving exoneration to the police, prosecutors and forensic staff, I think they show their lack of independence. No officials to be blamed: simply a Maltese shopkeeper." [11]

On 4 July 2007 Köchler wrote to Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, to Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, and to FCO Minister of State with responsibility for Africa, Asia and the UN, Mark Malloch Brown describing the SCCRC's decision as "long overdue" and calling for a full and independent public inquiry into the Lockerbie case. [12]

Administration of the Lockerbie review

On page 16 of the 2007–2008 annual report and accounts of the SCCRC, published on 4 June 2008, chief executive Gerald Sinclair has written a summary of the SCCRC's administration of the Lockerbie review. [13]

See also

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  1. "The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (Application to Summary Proceedings) Order 1999, SI 1999/1181". Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  2. "The Board". Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  3. "Lockerbie bomb appeal lined up for summer". The Scotsman . 5 May 2006. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  4. "Bomber bids for £1m return to Dutch court". The Scotsman. 9 June 2006. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  5. "Appeal rethink for Lockerbie bomber". The Scotsman. 1 November 2006. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  6. "Decision in June 2007 on Megrahi's case". Archived from the original on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  7. Townsend, Mark; Smith, David (25 June 2007). "Evidence that casts doubt on who brought down Flight 103". The Observer. London. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  8. "referral of Megrahi case". Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  9. "Statement of Dr Hans Köchler, international observer at the Lockerbie trial". Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  10. "Double standards in criminal justice: Pan Am Flight 103 v HIV trial in Libya" (PDF). Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  11. "Criticism of the SCCRC by Dr Hans Köchler". Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  12. Paul Kelbie (8 July 2007). "UN observer calls for fresh Lockerbie probe". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  13. "SCCRC's administration of the Lockerbie review". Archived from the original on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.