[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.]