[This is the headline over a report published today on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. It reads in part:]
The Scottish Parliament has been urged to undertake an investigation into the legal advice provided by the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, in her role as legal adviser to the Scottish Government over the Pan Am 103 debacle.
In a lengthy and detailed response to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, the Justice for Megrahi Committee have issued a devastating critique of the Lord Advocate’s handling of the case, highlighting errors in her legal assessment of the Megrahi case, and have challenged “the quality and accuracy of the advice and information being given to the Scottish Government by Scotland’s senior Law Officer.”
The committee includes emeritus professor of law Robert Black QC, whose advice was sought in the preparation of the trial of the two men accused in the Pan Am 103 case.
The concerns are articulated in the JFM committee’s response to the submissions placed before the Parliament’s petitions committee, in which they respond in particular to statements lodged by the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Government outlining why they oppose the convening of an inquiry into the Pan Am 103 fiasco.
In her submission, the Lord Advocate mistakenly claims that both the original trial panel of three judges, together with the five judge appeal bench “subjected the evidence to rigorous examination and concluded that it was proven beyond reasonable doubt that Mr al-Megrahi was responsible…"
The JFM committee state that this is "simply not the case."
The Scottish Government, advised by the Lord Advocate, asserts in its submission that it “does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi,” contrary to the conclusion of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which concluded a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
“The central question therefore becomes: how much did the Lord Advocate’s erroneous advice that the evidence which led to the conviction had being ‘rigorously’ examined by two courts affect their judgement,” the JFM committee said.
“It is our submission that the effect would have been considerable and might even have swayed the Government in its belief in the conviction and subsequent statement.
“On a more general point, Elish Angiolini is Scotland’s senior law officer and legal advisor to the government. What is certain is that her fingerprints can be seen all over the Government’s refusal of the JFM Petition to have an inquiry carried out. That the Lord Advocate should have played such a central role in the decision making and yet should issue such patently inaccurate and false information is extremely worrying and in our opinion demands an immediate investigation."
The committee's response goes on at length to narrate further "errors" in the Lord Advocate's submissions which they say call into question the quality and accuracy of the advice given to the Scottish Government.
"If, however, this was the only information error emanating from the Lord Advocate it would be bad enough but it is not," the group said.
"In our initial response to the Scottish Government, 13 January 2011, we pointed out how the Government had erroneously stated that it did not have the power to establish a public enquiry.
“We commented:‘It is difficult to understand these errors given the Crown Office and civil service assistance that was available to the Scottish Government. At best this points to grossly inaccurate research and at worst to a deliberate effort to muddy the waters.’
“Yet again we are forced to draw attention to the quality and accuracy of the advice and information being given to the Scottish Government by Scotland’s senior Law Officer. That there might have been serious flaws in the briefings the Scottish Government was receiving prior to our petition being turned down and also possibly prior to the release of Mr. Megrahi is, we believe, a matter of great concern.
“An important question to be asked is to what extent did this misinformation affect the Scottish Government’s decision making process?
The committee go on to further challenge the competence of the Lord Advocate, and claim she “has delivered inaccurate and confusing information.”
Angiolini announced in September that she would be stepping down from her post at the Scottish elections taking place in May.
The Committee adds that the attitude of the Crown Office -whose conduct has been consistently criticised by the UK Families Flight 103 Group, whose spokesman Dr Jim Swire is on the JFM committee, “is symptomatic of a culture of self-interest where openness and accountability is seen as threatening that interest.”
“We believe that the Lord Advocate, in her briefing of the Scottish Government in relation to our petition for a public inquiry, has delivered inaccurate and confusing information,” the group said.
“Firstly she was wrong in advising that the Government did not have the power to hold such an inquiry and also wrong in suggesting that all of the evidence heard at Mr Megrahi’s Zeist trial had been ‘rigorously’ re-examined by the appeal court. This of course begs the question to what extent this misinformation has affected the Government response.
“It is stretching credibility to believe that such misinformation did not colour this most critical of decisions, and of course once made, it colours everything including their latest response.
“It is clear to the JFM Committee that the misinformation from the Lord Advocate and Crown Office to the Scottish Government, which we refer to above, is symptomatic of a culture of self interest where openness and accountability is seen as threatening that interest. It is against this background that the Government and Lord Advocate responses should be judged.
“We would go further than this and suggest that in the light of these two errors how can we be confident that other misinformation has not been supplied regarding our petition and perhaps even in respect of the wider matter of Mr. Megrahi's release and other issues related to Lockerbie?
“We believe that these question marks over the accuracy of the Lord Advocate’s information and her motivation in issuing it have potentially serious implications for our justice system." (...)
The petitions committee will debate the submission when it reconvenes on 1 March.