Tuesday, 27 December 2011

We must have Lockerbie inquiry, no matter the cost

[This is the headline over an editorial in today's edition of The Herald.  It reads as follows:]

As Pamela Dix, whose brother died in the Lockerbie bombing, says: "It is unfinished business." Now one more step has been taken towards unravelling the uncertainty that has hung over this case ever since that awful December night 23 years ago.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has revealed that he has the go-ahead under the Data Protection Act from Kenneth Clarke, his opposite number in the UK Government, to publish the 800-page Statement of Reasons from the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC). This document explains the grounds for appealing the conviction of the Libyan Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only person convicted of the atrocity. It was never published because the appeal itself was dropped when he was released on compassionate grounds in August 2009.

It emerged earlier this year that legislation going through Holyrood could not guarantee publication because the material would continue to be subject to UK data protection legislation. Now that potential hurdle appears to have been removed.

If, as the Scottish Government maintains, it supports the maximum possible transparency in this case, it is apposite to ask why it took some time to make an official approach to the Westminster Justice Department regarding this matter. For years the UK and Scottish governments have played a slow-motion version of pass the parcel with this case, with neither seemingly prepared to increase the snail's pace progress and the prospect of political advantage (or damage) playing its part.

The imminent publication of John Ashton's biography of Megrahi may force the pace as, once the material is public, SCCRC will be free to publish it themselves. It is not clear how much further it will take us. The document dates from 2007. Fresh material and new forensic techniques have appeared in the interim. Also, in the interests of national security, some items and passages will be redacted.

Regardless of whether or not the man convicted of this crime is guilty as charged, others must have been involved. There are still many unanswered questions. Only a full and wide-ranging independent public inquiry can tackle these issues. This case may show the quality of Scottish justice in a poor light but ultimately getting at the truth is more important. It is also what the relatives of those who died desire and deserve.

[This editorial follows on from an article by chief reporter Lucy Adams which contains the following:]

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has revealed he has received assurances from the UK Government to help smooth the path to publication of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's (SCCRC) long-awaited report.

Mr MacAskill wrote to the UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke earlier this month to ask the Coalition Government to remove obstacles presented by the Data Protection Act 1998, which is reserved to the UK Parliament, to enable a Scottish Government Bill to be put forward.

Mr Clarke has replied to say he is happy for his officials to discuss the matter directly with the SCCRC to find out more information about the barriers to publication of its Statement of Reasons in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi.

The Scottish Government has responded by providing contact details for the SCCRC to facilitate discussions. (...)

The chief executive of the SCCRC said that, regardless of the legislation going through the Scottish Parliament, the commission still had to "comply with the requirement of the Data Protection Act 1998 which is, of course, UK-wide legislation".

Robert Black, QC, one of the architects of the original trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, said the Scottish legislation was a "waste" of time. (...)

It is thought Megrahi's official biography, expected early next year, will contain much of the detail from the report. If it does, that could free the commission to publish the full report because it will already be in the public domain.

Mr MacAskill said: "I welcome this willingness from Kenneth Clarke and the UK Government to engage with the SCCRC on this important issue. We in the Scottish Government have always made it clear that we want to be as open as possible when it comes to publishing information relating to the Lockerbie atrocity.

"This is a welcome step forward that we have sought for some time in the process of removing the obstacles that bar publication by the SCCRC of its Statement of Reasons in the case of Megrahi.

"We will be following the outcome of discussions between the UK Government and the SCCRC very closely and will review the necessary steps forward after these discussions have concluded."

In October this year, 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 ability of parties who disclosed the information to block its publication.

The Criminal Cases (Punishment & Review) (Scotland) Bill is expected to be passed early next year. It should give statutory authority to the SCCRC to decide whether it is appropriate to publish a Statement of Reasons in cases it has investigated where an appeal has subsequently been abandoned.

However, it has no power to get around UK data protection legislation.

[The Scottish Government's press release on the issue can be read here.]


  1. We must have a Public Inquiry, whatever the cost!

    A noble headline, but who dare defy America.

    Some do, reluctantly, because they are forced too, but who volunteers for the role.

    This is why the SNP has refused to act, because despite an open goal, they fear American retaliation.

    Telling the truth about Lockerbie may serve humanity, but would it serve Scotland?

  2. What principally matters to me is the integrity of the Scottish criminal justice system. Until we know precisely what went wrong in the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and adjudication, we cannot put it right. And while it has not been put right, all of us in Scotland are potentially at risk.

  3. I agree and in Britain too, but the truth also comes at a heavy price.

    The destruction of Libya was an attempt to close the Lockerbie file. Could the same happen to Scotland?

    Once this would have been a ridiculous idea, but America has become a rogue state, looking for pretexts for war.

    Only a Ron Paul victory would potentially make it safe for the truth to be told.

  4. Dave: ...they fear American retaliation. Telling the truth about Lockerbie may serve humanity, but would it serve Scotland?

    Robert Black ...while it has not been put right, all of us in Scotland are potentially at risk.

    The truth comes at a cost. One question is then, if maintaining a lie is cheaper, and for who.

    I don't think that American retaliation would be the problem. They are used to other countries having another opinion. 54 countries protested formally against the Iraq war.

    The cost would be an extremely painful break-down of a system which is essentially corrupt. In Scotland's largest and saddest case ever the whole apparatus is all about supporting the verdict and suppressing the truth.

    Obviously, the Scottish people have more important things to worry about.

  5. Formally protesting is one thing, getting in the way is another.

    America would view a Public Inquiry as an act of war or 'colluding with terrorists'.

    The SNP victory in Scotland has helped unlock the door, but it will need a return to constitutional government in America, before the door is opened.