The new Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament meets on Tuesday, 28 June at 10.00am in Committee Room 2. Amongst the items on the agenda is the Justice for Megrahi petition seeking an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi. The committee clerk's note on the agenda item reads as follows:
Note by the Clerk
PE1370 – lodged November 2010
Petition by Dr Jim Swire, Professor Robert Black QC, Mr Robert Forrester, Father Patrick Keegans and Mr Iain McKie on behalf of ‘Justice for Megrahi’ calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.
1. The Committee is invited to agree what action it wishes to take on this petition. This petition has been carried over from the previous session. At the meeting on 1 March 2011, the previous PPC discussed the petition and agreed to keep it open in order to let the incoming committee decide what it wishes to do. The option of passing it on to the Justice Committee was canvassed but given the proximity to dissolution was not acted upon.
2. The previous PPC asked the then Scottish Government whether it would open an independent inquiry. By letter of 7 January 2011, the then Scottish Government responded, saying:
“The Government does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Mr AlMegrahi. He was tried and convicted by a Scottish court before three judges and his appeal against conviction, heard by a panel of five judges, was unsuccessful. A second appeal, following a referral from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, was abandoned by Mr Al-Megrahi. The conduct of his defence during his trial and the appeals, including his decision not to give evidence at trial and the decision to abandon the second appeal, was entirely a matter for Mr Al-Megrahi and his legal advisors. The Government’s view is that the petition is inviting the Scottish Government to do something which falls properly to the criminal justice system i.e. inquire into whether a miscarriage of justice has taken place. The criminal justice system already provides a mechanism for that to happen. The fact that Mr Al-Megrahi chose to abandon his second appeal rather than pursue it is entirely a matter for him and it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to institute an inquiry as a result.”
In response to the question who would have the power to undertake an inquiry in the terms proposed in the petition, the Scottish Government responded in the same letter:
“The Inquiries Act 2005 provides that, to the extent that the matters dealt with are devolved, and criminal justice is devolved, the Scottish Government would have the power to conduct an inquiry. However, the wide ranging and international nature of the issues involved (even if the inquiry is confined to the trial and does not concern itself with wider matters) means that there is every likelihood of issues arising which are not devolved, which would require either a joint inquiry with or a separate inquiry by the UK government. Separately, the Scottish Government intends to bring forward legislation to allow the SCCRC to publish a statement of reasons in cases such as Mr Al-Megrahi's where an appeal is abandoned, subject of course to legal restrictions applying to the SCCRC such as data protection, the convention rights of individuals and international obligations attaching to information provided by foreign authorities.”
3. The previous Committee received written evidence from the following—
Scottish Government letter of 7 January 2011
Petitioner letter of 13 January 2011
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission letter of 7 February 2011
Scottish Government letter of 3 February 2011
Lord Advocate letter of 9 February 2011
Petitioner letter of 16 February 2011
4. More recently, the Petitioner submitted the following further evidence (enclosed with these papers):
• PE1370/G: Petitioner letter of 17 June 2001
• A copy of an article by Stephen Raeburn in The Independent Law Journal [The Firm]
5. The Committee is invited to consider what action it wishes to take; there are three possible options:
(1) To continue the petition in order to seek an update from the Scottish Government on its plans for legislation regarding the SCCRC;
(2) To refer the petition on to another Committee (the Justice Committee) under Rule 15.6.2; or
(3) To close the petition under Rule 15.7. If the Committee decides to close the petition it must state publicly its reasons for doing so. On a strict reading of the petition the Parliament has done what was asked to do and the Scottish Government has responded to say that it does not intend to open an independent inquiry.