Friday, 17 December 2010

Compassionate release not appropriate for mass murderers

[This is the view expressed in an opinion piece by Hugh McLachlan, Professor of Law and Social Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, in today's edition of The Scotsman. It can be read -- but only by subscribers to the newspaper's premium content -- here. The following are excerpts.]

The information publicised recently by WikiLeaks regarding the release from prison of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi suggests that, all along, the Scottish Government has been telling the truth. He was not released for reasons of commercial expediency. He was released on the grounds of compassion in accordance with what were considered to be the principles and practices of Scots Law.

However, to say that in terms of the prevailing relevant rules, the decision of Kenny MacAskill, the Minister of Justice, was impeccable is not to defend the rules. (...)

... I do not find it understandable and excusable that someone who is assumed to be guilty of murdering two hundred and seventy people should be released from prison because he is terminally ill. This is a shocking injustice. The rules and procedures that lead to this outcome would appear to be wrong. At the very least, they require an elaboration and a justification.

If you murder two hundred and seventy people no punishment will be enough. You will not live long enough to serve an adequately long prison sentence no matter how long you live. That, at some stage, you have only a few months to live would not be a justification for ending that punishment. Compassion would be an appropriate motive for giving you medical treatment if you became ill but not for setting you free.

If Mr al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted, he did not deserve to be in prison. He should have been released -- but not on the grounds of compassion. He should have been released on the grounds of justice.

If, as Mr MacAskill's decision assumes, he is guilty of killing two hundred and seventy people, he deserves to be in jail whether he is terminally ill or not. His terminal illness is irrelevant to the justice of his punishment. To give him medical treatment is an appropriate compassionate response.

To release him from prison out of compassion is inappropriate. It is unethical.

[It surprises me somewhat to find a professor of law (even when combined with social sciences) ascribing the provision of medical treatment to ill prisoners to an exercise of compassion. I should have thought it was a matter of legal duty.

I am grateful to Professor McLachlan for informing me that The Scotsman misdescribed him. He is in fact Professor of Applied Philosophy in the School of Law and Social Sciences.]



    Solange das Scottish Parliament die entlastenden SCCRC Dokumente und das PII blockiert, bezugsweise nicht öffnet, sollte man Mr. Al Megrahi's Freilassung als gerecht hinnehmen, da er durch ein Miscarriage of Justice in 6 Punkten falsch verurteilt wurde !

    Google translation:
    As long as the Scottish Parliament blocked the SCCRC exculpatory documents and the PII, do not will open, one should accept Mr. Al Megrahi's release as just as it was by a Miscarriage of Justice condemned wrong in 6 points !

    by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd., Switzerland, URL:

  2. I think that this is a very abnormal case and we are entitled to suspect complexities below the surface of the 'compassionate release' story. If Mehgrahi's conviction had been secure and widely viewed as such, then it is very unlikely that any government would have courted unpopularity by releasing him on a point of legal principle - governments are very skilled at the selective application of principle, a Darwinian requirement for survival.

    Permit me (as a member of the SNP) to be scandalously amoral for a moment: the SNP would appear to have a great deal to gain politically by revealing the conviction of Megrahi as a fraud, perpetrated by the Unionist parties as supine clients of the USA, by London proxy. So why was release conditional on dropping the appeal?

    It might be perfectly conventional for the SNP to release people convicted of serious offences on compassionate grounds (even their predecessor, extreme right-wing coalition did so more than once), but Lockerbie was a huge human trauma, and the boldest of ministers would have been very reluctant to transport a moral principle into a landscape where it was emotionally difficult to sustain - no compassion is due to the uncompassionate, the story would go (and went).

    Salmond's repeated protestions that he believes the conviction of Megrahi to be 'safe' can only be a cloak for a confession of intimidation. That is what this campaign is up against - forces so powerful that they can cause politicians to act against their own most obvious interests.

  3. Vronsky writes:

    'Permit me (as a member of the SNP)...So why was release conditional on dropping the appeal?'

    I to am a member of the SNP. The question you ask has been answered many times. The Compassionate Release of al-Megrahi has become conflated with release under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. The dropping of any appeal and the cessation of any other related legal procedure was only necessary for release under the PTA but NOT for Compassionate Release. This fact seems to have been understood according to one of the cables from the US Embassy in London (Wikileaks). That would suggest that you have been taken in by a deliberate misinformation campaign.

    Sorry Google translation only:

    "Swiss infidel" Libyan leader Gaddafti has called for jihad against Switzerland

    Gadhafti invited to join the Muslims around the world in an armed strudel against the European country, it was a disbeliever, that the mosque was destroyed.
    "Every Muslim in any part of the world working with Switzerland, is a renegade who is against (the Profit), God and the Quorn," Great Mummified Gadhafti of the Peoples Jambalaya said.
    "The masses of the Muslims must go to all aeroports in the ancient Islamic world and prevent Swiss aircraft landing on all ports and that Suisse ships docking, check all the souks and markets to stop all Suisse goods sold, toblerone, Suisse army of knives, Emmental, clocks going cuckoo, and time bombes" said Gaddafti.

    Gaddafti accused Switzerland to be an "infidel, obscene State, mosques destroyed," in reference to a Swiss referendum ruling barring the construction of minarets.
    He called for a jihad against them by all means ". "By all means have a jihad, Mummamia said! It will be easier for a needle to pass through the back of a camels end than a Suisse man to enter it roughly."

    Cuckoo Suisse people like me voted 57.5 percent for the ban on minarets in the 29th November referendum on the right-wing Suisse People's Party supported.


    Attention, Attention ! here MEBO speaks from Switzerland:

    Dear Professor Robert Black,
    the above comment "Mebo said" of 17 Dec. 2010 was not written by Edwin Bollier or Mahnaz (MEBO Ltd.). Someone must be entered as a hacker in their Bloc! I ask you this comment to be removed. Thank you.
    by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd, Switzerland,


    Achtung Achtung! hier spricht MEBO aus der Schweiz:

    Dear Professor Robert Black,
    oben stehender Kommentar "Mebo said", vom 17. Dez. 2010, wurde nicht von Edwin oder Mahnaz Bollier (MEBO Ltd) geschrieben. Jemand muss als Hacker in ihren Bloc eingedrungen sein ! Ich bitte Sie diesen Kommentar zu entfernen. Vielen Dank.
    by Edwin und Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd., Switzerland,

  6. On reflection, I have decided not to remove the post that appears two above this one. There is room for satire on this blog.

    However, readers are warned that posts from 'Ebol' (upper case E) are not from Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier who post as 'ebol' (lower case e).

    Attn. Professor Robert Black

    Thank you, with your view we agree.
    by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, Ltd. MEO., Switzerland. URL:

    Attn. Professor Robert Black

    Thank you, with your view we agree.

  9. Michael Follon, there is no confusion for many of us: particularly about an appeal that could and should have been heard but for actions involving the Scottish judiciary and later the current Scottish Government. I for one expected better of them. I was used to the Unionist Parties and their long established pattern of ensuring the truth about Lockerbie remained unknown. I did not expect the SNP to follow the same pattern but follow it they did, quite unnecessarily. Up to and including the current Justice Minister inserting a clause into arrangements for the release of the full SCCRC (concerning consents) which did NOT need to be there. MacAskill's role in particular is bizarre and much of his conduct remains unexplained.

    The SNP could have taken the issue of Lockerbie and triumphed. There is simply no doubt about that. The SCCRC findings came on the scene at precisely the same time as an SNP government and here was an issue for them to take on in the interests of justice and in the interests of Scotland's internationally trashed reputation following that verdict. And yet? They passed on pushing our judiciary to have that appeal heard, they passed on delivering justice on Lockerbie.

    The release was nothing more than a fall back position which ensured Megrahi was freed but while still a guilty man. Nothing honourable about it and nothing compassionate either. Just a cynical exercise in ensuring the truth stays where it is.

    Their hands are now contaminated just as Unionist Party hands are. No difference. I am disappointed in Salmond especially as this issue should have been right up his street. I will never understand why he didn't take it on.

  10. If "BOSS" Prof. R. Black finds good the funny satire on his bloc, there must be a "specific reason" why so ?
    by Edwin Bollier, "Rubin"...

  11. I`ve been thinking about why MacAskill released al Megraghi in the first place and I am coming to the conclusion that his appeal itself might have been the reason.The Megraghi appeal was the biggest "time bomb" possible for the Scottish legal establishment. It would almost certainly have been won and many embarrassing questions would then have been asked about the original trial and the quality of the evidence led.

    MacAskill is the Justice Secretary of a minority government and has been extremely popular with the legal establishment here.To gain this popularity he would have had to develop a very close relationship with high ranking police officers,judges and law officers. When they saw the appeal progressing, albeit slowly, towards finality the alarm bells must have been deafening. Could this have been the "spur" which drove MacAskill towards his "act of mercy?"

    One thing I have found odd about Megraghi`s release was the lack of criticisms from "conservative" individuals in the Scottish legal community. I would have expected such a decision by the first SNP Justice Secretary to free the man who is still officially Scotland`s greatest mass murderer to have been met with considerable adverse comment from judges, Chief Constables etc but this has been surprisingly muted.
    But the release might only have delayed the appeal. As we see many, including al Megraghi`s family,are minded to pursue it even after his demise. So suddenly Scotland`s legal establishment creates the mechanism whereby the appeal can be killed off forever.....

    Should we be preparing for Scotland`s first Cadder judgement, that the future Megraghi appeal is not in the public interest?

  12. Hi Grendal, I think many agree MacAskill became part of the political and legal establishments' wish to get rid of the appeal. The legal establishment tactics were to keep delaying the hearing of the appeal. It needed the politicians tho' to get him released and to get him to also drop the appeal.

    Many of us, myself included, did not in our wildest dreams, believe the SNP would have become part of the plot to deny all of us justice over Lockerbie. But become part of it they did: indeed Salmond and MacAskill have gone further in repeatedly insisting the original verdict was not flawed. It is as if the SCCRC report did not exist.

    But please don't think the SNP had no choice because they did. And many of us believe had they taken the issue on it would have been, not just the right thing to do, but it would also have been politically beneficial also. I personally believe all of Scotland would have been behind any quest to get to the truth about Lockerbie.

  13. Professor McLachlan was just giving his opinion that's all, he does that quite a lot.

    Megrahi was released because he qualified for release after assessment by the appropriate people.

    It was no doubt convenience for the Scottish government but there is no evidence they persuaded anyone in the release process to act inappropriately.

    There is also no evidence that MacAskill caused Megrahi to drop his appeal. The only person that can explain that is Megrahi.