Thursday, 19 May 2011

Regime unchanged

[This is the headline over an article just published on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. It reads in part:]

In a damning indictment of the failure of the criminal justice system, Robert Forrester, secretary of the Justice for Megrahi Committee lays bare the intent of a "rampant" Crown Office and a Government that is determined to prevent the most serious miscarriage of justice in Scots history being heard.

Whereas the former Labour administrations at Holyrood could be said to have been tainted by their links to HMG in Westminster, the SNP, under First Minister Alex Salmond, came to office in 2007 with clean hands on the Lockerbie/Zeist affair. Quite unaccountably however, it is now impossible to differentiate between the SNP’s conduct on this matter and that expected from parties that might be viewed as more likely to act at the behest of Westminster’s wishes than in the interests of the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system. Their record shows the following:

* On taking up the reins of power in 2007, the SNP government maintained the Labour appointed, Crown Office, career civil servant Elish Angiolini as Lord Advocate.

* Within a month of the SNP coming to office, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) released its Statement of Reasons, including its six grounds for appeal. At the end of their term, the Scottish Government had still not published this document, which had taken three years to produce and cost the tax payer in excess of £1,000,000.

* In 2009, the Scottish Government introduced secondary legislation in the form of a statutory instrument handing power to the suppliers of evidence given to the SCCRC, when drawing up the Statement of Reasons, to block publication of the document without the supplier’s consent.

* Following a flurry of activity in August 2009 during which Mr al-Megrahi was met separately by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, and representatives of the Libyan government, the prisoner dropped his second appeal, when under no legal obligation to do so under the terms of compassionate release, and was duly repatriated. Question marks still persist over what may have transpired at these meetings in HM Prison Greenock, or on other occasions, that could have led to the dropping of what was promising to be a most revealing appeal.

* In 2010, the Scottish Government rushed the Criminal Procedure (Legal Assistance, Detentions and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 2010 through parliament as emergency legislation. Not only was there no emergency but section 7 of the new Act, which places significant obstacles before anyone wishing to apply to the SCCRC and, if successful there, to appeal to the High Court in the interests of justice, was unnecessarily and inexplicably included.

* For over a year following Mr al-Megrahi’s release, the Scottish Government maintained that it lacked the power to open an inquiry into the Lockerbie/Zeist case. It finally admitted that it had had the power to do so all along after being backed into a corner by Justice for Megrahi (JFM). No apology for this has ever been forthcoming, either to JFM or to the Scottish people.

* Prior to seeking election for a second term, the SNP government promised to introduce primary legislation in order to facilitate the publication of the SCCRC’s Statement of Reasons. Not only is primary legislation not required to release the document for publication, the process involved would be extremely time consuming. All that is necessary is that the consent requirement in the present statutory instrument, introduced by the same SNP government in 2009, be removed by an amending statutory instrument. This, by contrast, could involve a process lasting little more than a month to complete.

* Throughout the SNP’s first term in office, and still in force, HMG has held Public Interest Immunity Certificates over two of the SCCRC’s six grounds for appeal. This deny the tax payers, who footed the bill for the document, access to the Statement of Reasons, and additionally, not once has the SNP government protested at this interference by HMG in the power devolved to Holyrood over Scots Law. In fact, the SNP government has positively supported it through the consent arrangement.

[Robert Forrester's article is also the subject of a news item in The Firm headlined Committee claims Mulholland's appointment puts image before justice which contains the following:]

The Justice For Megrahi committee have said that the appointment of "career civil servant" Frank Mulholland to the post of Lord Advocate prioritises "the preservation of the Crown’s image might take priority over concerns about propriety in the dispensation of justice."

The Committee, founded by Dr. Jim Swire, Iain McKie, Fr Pat Keegans and Professor Robert Black QC said they anticipated Mulholland's tenure would lead to "years of delaying tactics, obfuscation, economies with the truth and hurriedly erected barricades."

"It would, of course, be unfair to criticise the new Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, before he has properly established his feet under the desk. However, one can be forgiven for thinking that for Mr Salmond to appoint someone who seems ostensibly to hail from the same Crown Office, career civil servant background as Elish Angiolini did indicates that we are very likely in for another four years of business as usual," said committee secretary Robert Forrester, on behalf of the group.

"Another four years of delaying tactics, obfuscation, economies with the truth and hurriedly erected barricades, all in the interest of defending the Crown’s reputation and to Hell with justice! Why?

"By appointing Lord Advocates whose experience is largely based upon life within the civil service structure of the Crown Office in preference to those who have worked their way up through the ranks in legal practice, it is hardly surprising if the preservation of the Crown’s image might take priority over concerns about propriety in the dispensation of justice – as the conflict between Zeist doubters and Elish Angiolini appears to attest."

1 comment:

  1. I would have added to the list the fact that the SNP government stood by while the Scottish Judiciary wilfully delayed the hearing of the second appeal. By the time of his release Megrahi had waited more than 2 years for that appeal to be heard. An SNP government came to power almost as the SCCRC's findings were announced, including those six grounds, and yet they did nothing to treat, with urgency, getting to the truth about Megrahi's conviction. This failure alone is shocking in its own right.