Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Justice for Megrahi's written evidence to Justice Committee

[The Scottish lawyers’ magazine The Firm has this evening published the following report about the written evidence submitted by the Justice for Megrahi campaign group to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee:]

The Justice for Megrahi group have lodged a written submission to the Scottish Government outlining why it believes the Scottish Government should amend its position and move to lift the block preventing publication of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s report, which concluded a miscarriage of justice may have befallen Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.

The group had been invited to participate in the parliamentary consultation process on the Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill.

The group argue that the bill manufactures a block on the release of the paper, which could be removed by a statutory instrument.

“A cynic might suspect that Part 2 of the Bill has been deliberately designed to ensure that no useful disclosure of SCCRC material is possible under its terms,” the group said in its submission.

“Whether or not that is its purpose, that is its effect,” it adds.

“The reasons for proceeding by primary legislation rather than statutory instrument which are given in paragraphs 63 to 65 of the Policy Memorandum are wholly unconvincing: they completely fail to address the issue that a statutory instrument would override common law and statutory obligations of secrecy and confidentiality whereas Part 2 of the Bill does not and cannot.

“It is submitted that the Justice Committee should recommend to the Scottish Government that, if it genuinely wishes to see meaningful disclosure of SCCRC material in the Megrahi case, it should (a) reconsider the possibility of proceeding by statutory instrument and (b) formulate a scheme which, unlike the one set out in the Bill, is designed to achieve rather than impede this objective.”

The group argue that the Bill removes the requirement of obtaining the consent of the person who supplied information to the SCCRC, but conversely also requires the SCCRC to notify and seek the views of the person who supplied the information and also “of any person directly affected by it".

“It provides a detailed (and cumbersome) mechanism to permit such persons to object to disclosure and (if the SCCRC rejects the objections) to permit them to take legal action to try to block the disclosure,” the group says.

“Under the Bill, common law and statutory obligations of secrecy or confidentiality could be founded upon by the suppliers of the information, or any persons directly affected by it, in any legal action taken by them to block disclosure. But if a statutory instrument were used by the Scottish Ministers to remove the restriction on disclosure -- the mechanism which is specifically mandated in section 194K(1)(f) -- these common law and statutory obligations of secrecy or confidentiality would be overridden.”

The full submission can be read here.

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