From the Prime Minister to Jason McCue - 11 September 2008
I wanted to address your concerns about the Libyan Resolutions Claims Act.
As I am sure you are aware the US and Libya signed a comprehensive claims settlement agreement on 14 August. This followed President Bush's signature of The Bill into law on 4 August.
Under the agreement a number of cases will be resolved and all those who will receive compensation will be of US or Libyan nationality, with the exception of those involved in the Lockerbie case.
While the provision of further compensation for British victims of the Lockerbie bombing is welcome, I am of course disappointed that the deal could not provide compensation for all British victims of Libyan sponsored terrorism.
You asked that the UK Government take urgent action during the negotiations of the settlement. I want to assure you that we were alive to the issue of the implications for all UK claimants, including those you represent.
When it became clear that negotiations were taking place between the US and Libya, the UK Government made representations to the US Government that UK claimants in the cases before US courts against Libya for its past sponsorship of IRA terrorist acts should be included in the recipients of any compensation package.
But in the event, this proved not to be possible.
A key reason for this was that international and US law do not permit the US Administration to espouse the claims of foreign nationals - and thereby preclude those claims not only before the US courts but also abroad. Also relevant to the US decision was their assessment of how likely it would be that claims would fall within the jurisdiction of US courts, and how likely it would be that they would succeed.
UK victims in the Lockerbie case, however, were able to receive payments from the compensation fund because of the unique circumstances of the case .
The Lockerbie bombing was subject to a UN Security Council Resolution which required that Libya accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bomb and pay victims' families appropriate compensation.
On this basis the US assisted in bringing closure to that case on behalf of the entire international community, and the Libyan Government agreed in 2003 to pay compensation to the victims' families.
The sums to be paid to those families under the terms of the US/Libya agreement reflect the final (so far unpaid) tranche of the previously agreed settlement payments.
There is no such mechanism, settlement of court judgment in place in relation to the legal actions regarding the supply of arms by Libya to the IRA.
I realise that those involved in the McDonald case will be disappointed with this outcome.
You raised the possibility of direct UK-Libya negotiations to settle these cases, and I would like to explain why the UK Government does not consider this to be appropriate.
In recent years our relationship with Libya has been fundamentally transformed.
They are an essential partner in the fight against terrorism and it is in the UK's interests for this co-operation to continue.
Furthermore, as you know Libya has answered questions about its involvement with the IRA to the satisfaction of the UK Government.
I can assure you and the families of the victims of IRA atrocities that the Government recognises it is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of victims as a necessary element of reconciliation.
The UK Government has already taken many steps, along with the Northern Ireland Executive and others, in relation to the provision of support and services for victims of The Troubles.
The four Commissioners for Victims and Survivors recently appointed by the First and Deputy First Ministers will, as part of their statutory remit, be representing the interests of victims and survivors and reviewing the services provided for them.
If you have any further concerns, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office.
From the Prime Minister to Jason McCue - 7 October 2008
Thank you and Lord Brennan for your further letter of 19 September regarding the US-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement.
I would like to start by addressing your request for the UK Government to open bilateral negotiations with Libya to seek a settlement of your clients' claims.
We have considered this matter very carefully and understand that this is a sensitive matter to all those involved.
While the UK did make diplomatic representations to the US Administration with the objective of securing the inclusion of your clients in the list of beneficiaries to any compensation package, as you will have noted from my letter of 11 September, the UK Government does not consider it appropriate to enter into a bilateral discussion with Libya on this matter.
This remains the Government's position.
Libya has already answered questions put to it by the UK Government about the involvement with the IRA.
Those answers satisfied the then UK Government and Libya has made it clear to us that they consider this matter closed.
It would be very strongly opposed to re-opening the issues and it is our considered assessment that Libya would not support or be prepared to discuss a bilateral settlement of these cases with the UK Government and doing so would entail substantial risks.
In your letter you assert that the core reason for not entering into direct negotiations with Libya is that of trade.
I assure you that this is not the case. While the UK-Libya relationship does indeed include trade, bilateral co-operation is now wide-ranging on many levels, particularly in the fight against terrorism.
I believe it is in all of our interests for this co-operation to continue.
Your letter raises a number of legal points regarding the merits of the claims lodged by your clients in US courts.
I should clarify that the reference in my letter of 11 September to issues regarding the merits of the cases and the jurisdiction of the US courts to hear them, was a reference to factors relevant to the US decision as we understand them from the US Administration.
You note in your letter that the cases in question are due to be considered by US courts shortly and, as that is the case, it would not be appropriate for the UK Government to comment on these lines of argument, which are best addressed to the US courts.
I assure you that the UK in no way condones Libya's past sponsorship of terrorism.
It is, however, important that we recognise the fundamental changes Libya has made in recent years.
It has dismantled its Weapons of Mass Destruction programme and renounced its support for international terrorism, including the IRA.
With the support of the UK, Libya has returned to the heart of the international community.
I know that this is not what you will have been hoping to hear from me but I hope you can understand why I do not think it appropriate to take this matter further.