Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Scottish censors to edit Megrahi report

[This is the headline over a report by James Cusick in today's edition of The Independent. It reads in part:]

Plans for "open and transparent" publication of a report that questions the Lockerbie bomber's conviction took a hit after Scotland's Justice Department said it may have to accommodate data-protection law, European human rights and the concerns of UK and US intelligence agencies in a redacted version of the findings.

The Scottish Government is set to announce next week it will fast-track new primary legislation designed to bypass restrictions on the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The commission is currently prevented from publishing the findings of a four-year, £1m investigation into the trial and conviction in 2001 of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. (...)

In 2007, the commission delivered a summary version of the full Megrahi report, which runs to 800 pages and 13 volumes of appendices. It said that "based upon our lengthy investigations, the new evidence we have found and other evidence that was not before the trial court [in 2001] that the applicant [Megrahi] may have suffered a miscarriage of justice."

After enquiries in the UK, Malta, Libya and Italy, the commission identified six grounds where it believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. Senior lawyers at the commission believe any new legislation enacted by the Holyrood parliament will only be one hurdle that will have to be overcome before the full report on Megrahi can be published.

The commission's concerns include material guarded by laws on sensitive and personal data issues relating to the Human Rights Act and privacy.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "We want to be open and transparent and to go as far as possible because we have nothing to hide in this [Megrahi's] case."

But there was an admission that nothing had yet been finalised on the shape of the new legislation. He added: "We will be looking at a range of issues, including data protection, privacy, and human rights. Intelligence and security concerns will also be taken into consideration."

[They're at it again. The current legislation relating to SCCRC disclosure (Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995) reads as follows]:

194K Exceptions from obligation of non-disclosure
(1) The disclosure of information ... is excepted from section 194J [Offence of disclosure] of this Act by this section if the information is disclosed ... --

(f) in any circumstances in which the disclosure of information is permitted by an order made by the [Scottish Ministers].

(4) Where the disclosure of information is excepted from section 194J of this Act by subsection (1) ... above, the disclosure of the information is not prevented by any obligation of secrecy or other limitation on disclosure (including any such obligation or limitation imposed by, under or by virtue of any enactment) arising otherwise than under that section.

[The effect of the italicised portion of the above provision is that an appropriately drafted Statutory Instrument (primary legislation is unnecessary) would override all statutory and common law bars to disclosure, other than those -- and I cannot imagine what they are -- founded on human rights concerns.]

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