Thursday, 22 December 2011

Talks ongoing on Megrahi details

[This is the headline over a report published this evening by The Press Association news agency.  It reads in part:]

The publication of details relating to the Lockerbie bomber's abandoned appeal is a matter for the UK Government and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) which holds the information, the Justice Secretary has said.

Kenny MacAskill said the Scottish Government had tried to broker discussions between the two on the possibility of setting aside data protection laws to allow the SCCRC's information on the Abdelbaset al-Megrahi appeal to be published.

Megrahi gave up his legal challenge shortly before he was released on compassionate grounds from Greenock jail two years ago. He was serving a sentence for the murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.

The SCCRC said he was entitled to an appeal, but said it had no power to make its reasons available to the public.

Mr MacAskill wrote to his Westminster counterpart Ken Clarke asking if data protection could be set aside to allow the SCCRC's statement of reasons to be released.

Asked by Conservative MSP John Scott whether he had received a response from Mr Clarke, Mr MacAskill told Holyrood: "They have asked for further information related to the type of personal data included within the SCCRC's statement of reasons in the Megrahi case, and I have responded by providing contact details to allow direct discussion to take place between the UK Government and the Commission on the issues surrounding data protection."

Mr MacAskill added: "These are fundamentally a matter for the SCCRC. We've made it quite clear that we are trying to broker discussions and I am grateful to Ken Clarke for his willingness to do so, so that officials from his department can meet with the Commission.

"This information is actually information that is privy only to the Commission. It is not known by myself or any other member of Government, and accordingly the discussion is required to take place by Her Majesty's Government and the SCCRC."

[This is quite extraordinary.  The Scottish Government has said that data protection considerations were prominent among the reasons for proceeding by primary legislation rather than by statutory instrument (secondary legislation) which is much less cumbersome and time-consuming.  From the outset, I have been sceptical about there being any relevant data protection concerns. Like the UK Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, I would very much like to know "the type of personal data included within the SCCRC's statement of reasons in the Megrahi case".  The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, now says he doesn't know.  Note that it is not the actual CONTENT of the information that he's saying he doesn't know --  that would be perfectly understandable -- but the TYPE. For the promoter of the primary legislation in question not to know the TYPE of personal data in the Megrahi report that his government says renders the legislation necessary is nothing short of mind-boggling.

The Official Report account of the exchange can be read here.]

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