[This is the headline over a report by Lucy Adams published this evening on the HeraldScotland website. It reads as follows:]
Legal experts have warned that the Bill currently going through Holyrood to allow for the release of a secret document about the Lockerbie case is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.
The unpublished 800-page report from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) explains the six reasons why the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing should be referred back to court for a fresh appeal.
Ministers pushed for the new Bill and have said consistently they want to see the document put in the public domain, but the reality is that it requires an exemption under the Data Protection Act, which can only be granted by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.
Despite starting the process to allow the SCCRC to publish in 2009, the Scottish Government has still not officially asked Mr Clarke for the exemption. The issue has been raised in informal talks only.
Gerard Sinclair, the Commission’s chief executive, said: “As I previously indicated the Commission is willing, in principle, to publish this document, the content of which has been the subject of a great deal of public and media speculation and debate.
“I believe, however, that legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament cannot, by itself, guarantee publication of this document, as both the Scottish Parliament and the Commission must act at all times in compliance with their respective obligations under the Human Rights Act.
“In addition, the Commission would also still require to act lawfully and comply with the requirement of the Data Protection Act 1998 which is of course UK-wide legislation.”
Scottish officials claim the Bill currently going through the Justice Committee is important because it will remove the current obstacle of where a party objects to publication.
Robert Black QC said: “They did not have to do it this way. It looks like they either had bad legal advice or they knew perfectly well what the end result would be. Why they would want to waste the Scottish Parliament’s time with this is an interesting question.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said it had received no official request from ministers.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “It is precisely because we believe that the SCCRC Statement of Reasons should be in the public domain that we are introducing a Bill later this year to enable publication, and the Bill is necessary in order to overcome objections by interested parties preventing any publication.”