Monday, 22 August 2011

MacAskill challenged over miscarriage report "conundrum"

[This is the headline over a report published today on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. It reads in part:]

The Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill has been asked by the secretary of the Justice for Megrahi Committee to explain why the Scottish Government has pledged to introduce an Act of Parliament to force the release of the crucial report from the Scottish Criminal Review Cases Commisison into Abdelbaset Al Megrahi's case, rather than a simple statutory instrument.

The SCCRC report concluded that a miscarriage of justice may have occured, and narrates the reasons in extensive detail explaining how it reached this conclusion.

The Justice For Megrahi secretary Robert Forrester contends that a simpler statutory instrument could facilitate the publication of the secret document (...)

"My understanding is that this process is not only very cumbersome and time consuming but also, on the face of it, appears to be unnecessary since the consent requirements blocking the document's publication are covered by a statutory instrument imposed in 2009 by means of secondary legislation," Forrester says. (...)

The letter was sent to MacAskill on 4 August and has not yet received a response.

Earlier this year Christine Grahame MSP asked a similar query, to which Mr MacAskill said: "Primary legislation is needed for full flexibility to ensure that an appropriate legislative framework is put in place.

"The proposed legislation will facilitate, as far as possible, the release of a statement of reasons by the Commission in circumstances where an appeal has been abandoned. In doing so, it will also maintain appropriate provision for such matters as data protection, the convention rights of individuals and international obligations attaching to information provided by foreign authorities."

Professor Black said those ends could "equally well be achieved in an appropriately drafted statutory instrument", and queried the legal basis for MacAskill's response.

The JFM Secretary has asked Mr MacAskill to explain the "conundrum".

"Why is it that the government is planning to pursue a programme for the introduction of primary legislation to remove the consent requirements that are impeding publication of the SCCRC's statement of reasons relating to Mr al-Megrahi's appeal?" Forrester's email asks.

"Obviously we may be missing something in the detail of what is required regarding this problem and we would be most appreciative if you could shed some light on the situation.

"Thank you again for your letter and we look forward to your response to the above puzzle."

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