Two short debates were held yesterday in the House of Lords on matters related to the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Megrahi.
The first arose out of a question asked by Lord Pannick QC: "To ask Her Majesty’s Government why they did not make representations to the Scottish Secretary for Justice on whether Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi should be released from prison on compassionate grounds." The answer and the ensuing interchanges can be read here. One exchange reads as follows:
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I should declare a professional interest as the former co-counsel for Mr al-Megrahi in his unsuccessful application to the European Court of Human Rights. In the interests of justice and for the sake of the Lockerbie families, would the Government now seek to persuade the Scottish Executive to set up a full judicial inquiry into the matters raised by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and the UN observer, Professor Köchler, about a possible miscarriage of justice and abuses in the investigation, prosecution and trial?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, as yet the British Government have made no decisions on these matters. The Lockerbie investigation took place and the result was that al-Megrahi was imprisoned in Scotland under that legal system. That remains the case and nothing can change in terms of what is possible from the investigation. The Libyans paid substantial compensation to the Lockerbie victims, but we accept that that is no justification.
The second debate arose out of the repetition in the Lords of the statement that had earlier been made in the Commons by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. The statement and the debate to which it gave rise can be read here. One exchange reads as follows:
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, as I mentioned at Questions, I disclose my professional interest in having acted as co-counsel in the claim by Mr Megrahi to the European Court of Human Rights, which got nowhere. Since then I have had no professional interest in the case. However, in the work that I did on it, which lasted several weeks, I went through the whole of the transcripts and read the appellate judgment, and I have to say that I came to the conclusion, entirely objectively and working with Scottish counsel, that there had been a denial of justice and that Mr Megrahi had not been proved to be guilty. When I then read the summary of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission report, which my noble friend referred to just now, and realised that it had come to the same conclusion, I was very disturbed.
I shall deal with a couple of points in addition to those that have been made by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. First, will the Government please give an assurance that they will consent to the publication of the whole report? The commission does not have the power to do so itself. If the Scottish Executive or Scottish Parliament ask them to, will the Government consent to the publication of all the report so that we can see what its grounds are for believing that there may have been a miscarriage of justice?
Secondly, I am very concerned about the circumstances in which Megrahi was persuaded to drop his appeal and to go and die in Libya. I saw him in Barlinnie myself. I would like to know, and I would like the Government to find out whether, when he was visited in prison, it was made clear to him that if he dropped his appeal he would be allowed to go and die in Libya, so that there would then be no appeal and the relatives—Dr Swire and the others—would never know the truth. That is very important to them, and they have written to me about it. I would therefore like an assurance that there was no quid pro quo and no pressure put upon him. The Government may not know the answer, but they should find out. Was any pressure put on Megrahi that he would be sent to die in Libya only if he dropped the appeal?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: On the last point, I am not aware of what the answer might be. We will ask for some advice on whether anyone has been asking those questions and, if so, I will respond to the question that the noble Lord raises.
On the issue of an independent inquiry, I have to keep repeating that is not really for us to say whether that will happen. I am, however, aware that the Scottish Parliament will soon begin an inquiry into the decisions that were taken, and I presume that that would be the best vehicle for any reflection that the Scottish authorities may choose to make on exactly what happened. I am sorry; I have forgotten the other question.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I was asking whether the Government would consent to the publication of the whole report if the Scottish Parliament or Executive asked them to.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: Again, that is an issue for the Scottish authorities, but we can ask whether there is a likelihood that the report will be given to those parties who are interested, such as someone, like the noble Lord, who was involved in the commission. It goes back to whether it is necessary to have an independent inquiry. The details of the re-engagement with Libya are there, and we will need to see. The Justice Secretary will appear before the Justice Committee on 20 October, so I think that these issues will become clearer as time goes on.