Friday, 10 February 2012

Cabinet Secretary for Justice speaks in Dumfries

[What follows is a from a report in today's edition of the Dumfries & Galloway Standard about a visit to Dumfries by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill:]

Mr MacAskill was in Dumfries to meet with Chief Constable Patrick Shearer and also to see the work of probationary officers and those taking part in firearms training.

His visit came as further moves were being made in the inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing.

The Scottish Government is trying to get round data protection legislation so that a top secret document drawn up by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) can be released.

It was looking at the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi but was never published after he dropped his appeal.

Mr MacAskill said: “The Lockerbie investigation remains and open file. Dumfries and Galloway (police) are acting under the instructions of the Lord Advocate because although Mr Megrahi is convicted by a Scottish court, no-one ever suggested that he acted alone, so the file has never been closed.

“Dumfries and Galloway and representatives of the Crown are working at that.

“In terms of the Scottish Criminal Case Review, we are committed to doing what we said as a government and that is to be as open as we can be.

“I accept, I’ve never seen the document and I’m not allowed to see the document, that there are difficulties in data protection. That is a matter that we have raised with Lord Clark, the Lord Chancellor south of the border, [sic: the Lord Chancellor is, of course, Mr Kenneth Clarke] and I am glad that he has engaged and is discussing with SCCRC.

“So, we are doing what we have to do to show wiling and to try and achieve the openness and transparency that we think is necessary.

“Where matters go after that is not a matter for me, it’s for the courts of law but I stand by the conviction that there is in the Scottish courts.

“If that has to change, then that it would be a matter respected by me.”

[What these last three sentences are intended by Mr MacAskill to convey is (at least to me) a mystery.]


  1. Last three sentences:

    In English Kenny MacAskill is saying, I know the truth and am showing willing, by promoting this half-baked bill, which is more than the Unionist‘s would do, but I can’t actually tell you the truth, or facilitate the truth, but if it did emerge, eventually, via the legal process, I would be happy.

  2. I won't say what they say to me either Prof B, you'll get done for allowing me to commit libel on your blog! : )

  3. Thanks for the translation, Dave. On reflection, I think you may be right.

  4. The pressure on MacAskill must be immense.

    It's hard enough keeping a guilty secret, let alone an innocent secret that chimes with one's political outlook.

    The more scutiny MacAskill gets on this issue the more likely he will crack, to clear his concience.

    I think his unclear comments are evidence of this struggle between wanting to tell the truth and the need to keep to the official line in the 'public interest'.

  5. Dave I can't agree with a lot of the things you say about MacAskill.

    If he is under pressure he has brought most of the pressure on himself through some of the astonishing claims he makes, almost daily, about the "integrity" of the Scottish Justice System and his beloved Scots Law.

    I think possibly the worst I ever heard from him was his speech on the day he announced Megrahi's release when he droned on about "compassion" when in fact all that was needed was justice and he wasn't prepared to do justice in the Lockerbie case.

    No one forced MacAskill or Salmond or the new SNP Government, in 2007, to follow the road taken by their Unionist counterparts for years over Lockerbie. They had a real chance, when the SCCRC findings were announced just a month after they took office, to say, "No more. We want the truth and this appeal is going to be heard."

    Instead they allowed the Judiciary to stall the appeal for more than two years during which Megrahi was diagnosed with cancer. Not even then would they push to have that appeal heard. Instead MacAskill dumped clauses all over the SCCRC report to prevent publication. All this hoo-haa over Data Protection is a joke.

    We had David Milliband signing Immunity Certificates in London to ensure certain evidence wasn't released for the case. And MacAskill tolerated it and didn't utter a whimper. The real joke however is to suggest MacAskill and the Scottish Government were somehow powerless or that this inner struggle was happening for them. Oh please! Both MacAskill and Salmond have publicly and repeatedly praised the verdict in the trial of Megrahi to the hilt and declared it was absolutely sound. They didn't seem to be struggling as they said it. I have never been more disappointed in a politician more. Salmond could have taken the issue of Lockerbie and declared Scotland needed the truth behind it as well as the dead and their families. Instead he worked with the then Labour Government to keep their filthy lies, and the lies of the Tories before them, over Lockerbie, safe.

    As I said, there was no pressure on them in 2007 when this report was released. It has built up since then and I'm sad to say the persons resisting most the pressure to go for justice ever since are MacAskill himself and Salmond. And if we ever do get justice it will be no thanks to either of them.

  6. As I suggested in giving evidence to the Justice 1 Committee the time has come for Mr MacAskill to step away from the official line offered by the Crown Office, Justice Department and civil servants and be politically pro-active.

    These related arms of government have been so closely intertwined that it is going to take a determined political will to separate them out but perhaps these words hint at that will.

    I do believe that the Justice Secretary is willing to listen and will be receptive to new and accurate information. I believe there has never been more fertile ground politically for the light finally to be let in on this indelible stain on our justice system.

    There is a sense in the air that John Ashton’s forthcoming book and the related TV documentary could well be the catalysts for that shaft of light to fall on the tragedy that is Lockerbie.

  7. Like mer McAskill Prime Minister John Major claimed in the 1996 House of Commons adjournment debate that the Lockerbie investigation was "open". Then like now it is only "open" if you agree with the official version version of events in particular the "big lie" that the primary suitcase arrived on flight PA103A from Frankfurt.

  8. For me, it's a small shift in position but a significant one, and resembles a recent statement by Salmond. It's no longer 'I believe the verdict was correct' but 'I stand by the verdict' - and he adds a rider implying that the verdict may be overturned in future, in which case he will stand by the acquittal.

    So it's still the words of a man who sees his duty as uncritical support of the legal system, but, significantly, he's aware of the possibility that he could be caught looking a fool if he continues to speak as though he's studied the case himself and agrees with the Zeist court. Now if the whole thing comes down around his ears he, and Salmond, can say they were simply declaring their support for decisions reached after due process of law. And add that further due process has corrected earlier mistakes, so isn't it wonderful?

    I'd paraphrase it as 'I won't stand up and question the decision of the courts, but I can see which way the wind is blowing and I want to cover by arse.'

  9. Hello Iain, nice to meet you here on the same thread.

    I don't think MacAskill can do what you suggest. The time for him to take such an approach is long past. He should have taken it in June 2007 when the SCCRC findings were announced. The then new Scottish Government allowed the Judiciary to delay Megrahi's appeal for more than two years. What it should have done was declare that it wanted justice for Scotland and for the dead.

    MacAskill bizarrely chose another course entirely and is clearly committed to this course for reasons he has never explained nor has Salmond explained his own conduct over something he, Salmond, could have taken on and defeated Westminster on no matter what they threw at him. He's currently telling them that Scotland will not be dictated to by Westminster over a referendum yet over Lockerbie he tries to make us believe he is helpless? He told US Senators to go and chase themselves, that Scotland was accountable to no one except her people yet he's wittering on that we can't have an Inquiry into Lockerbie?

    I was convinced Salmond would go to town on Lockerbie: I really was. I have never been so bitterly disappointed in any politician. I will never understand why the SNP did this. I know too that they hurt and bewildered many of their own members because there is no doubt that the position adopted suited the Labour and Tory Parties very well indeed.

  10. I think Baz is closest to right, here. Salmond and MacAskill are concentrating on Megrahi's alleged role, and not on the more crucial question of the modus operandi.

    If you don't question the Malta origin, then it's probably self-evident that Megrahi must have been involved somehow, although obviously someone else must have put the actual bomb on the plane because quite clearly he didn't. I don't think either Salmond or MacAskill has actually questioned the Malta introduction theory.

    Salmond's biographer (Torrance) says that in his opinion Salmond believes Megrahi is guilty. I found it hard to imagine how this could be so until I had the surreal experience of talking to Ming Campbell about it. Ming is convinced Megrahi was justly convicted because he (Ming) is a lawyer and he understands the rules of evidence better than us mere mortals. Or words to that effect. I could imagine MacAskill, who is also a lawyer, taking the same line. And Salmond taking his cue from MacAskill.

    I think MacAskill and Salmond have never seriously questioned the Malta introduction theory. Which is why they keep banging on about finding the other people who must have been involved along with Megrahi. I think their embarrassment is because they know the evidence was not sufficient to convict Megrahi - but they think he was guilty anyway. They just want this hideously embarrassing episode to go away and don't understand why it won't. If anything, they hope further evidence might identify others involved at Malta, and so cement Megrahi's alleged role.

    I don't know if that makes any sense to anyone. Discuss, by all means.

  11. Martin Cadman said an American Senator told him, “we know the truth, but we’re not going to tell you”.

    That’s why there was no public inquiry, because the Americans didn’t want the truth to be told.

    This is why all British governments have looked the other way.

    And all the lies, the show trial and the destruction of Libya are the result of this initial cover-up.

    The SNP did have a political interest in the truth being told and progress has been made.

    BUT, once in Office the SNP face the same dilemma as all British Governments.

    Do you defy America and tell the truth, or do you prioritise jobs and growth etc and leave the truth to posterity.

    This is why despite an open goal, MacAskill continues to walk around the ball rather than kick it into the back of the net.

  12. Rolfe, you can't be serious.

    "I found it hard to imagine how this could be so until I had the surreal experience of talking to Ming Campbell about it. Ming is convinced Megrahi was justly convicted because he (Ming) is a lawyer and he understands the rules of evidence better than us mere mortals. Or words to that effect. I could imagine MacAskill, who is also a lawyer, taking the same line. And Salmond taking his cue from MacAskill."


    As a mere mortal myself I'm interested in justice and, despite being all-knowing lawyers, Ming Campbell and MacAskill should too.

    During your surreal chat with Ming did he dismiss the SCCRC as "mere mortals" too because they're not. And on six separate grounds they found evidence to suggest a possible miscarriage. Did Ming believe the SCCRC should be ignored?

    It is not MacAskill's job, or Salmond's, to flout their own opinions in cases such as this: their priority should have been to kick aside the politics associated with Lockerbie and go for the plain truth on this conviction. How on earth can they seriously throw words like "integrity" around when speaking of such a trial? Good heavens, even the Lord Advocate at the time misled (some would say lied) to judges about those cables which the Crown attempted to withhold from Megrahi's defence.

    Had he been Ming's or Kenny's client would they have been ok with that? Would they have been ok with presenting evidence from Air Malta that no unaccompanied bags went on that flight only for judges to simply decide, without any evidence, that one bag did get on there? Would they have said to their client, "Hey, you're a mere mortal, you don't know how the law works. Get over it!"?

    No wonder you referred to the conversation with Ming as surreal. My shock is that you went from that to "imagining" how MacAskill might adopt a similar position. Eh?

    Well here's a thing, 86% of Scottish Lawyers polled on the Lockerbie verdict believe the Zeist verdict was flawed. I think that leaves MacAskill and our Ming in a very worryingly low minority.

    You don't have to be a lawyer to see the gaping holes in the case even before you get to the fact that the US paid millions to the Gaucis for their testimony.

    Mere mortals concern themselves with a justice system which in this case has been horribly exposed as a place where the concept of justice itself has no place.

    The Fraser case threw up similar shocks. TWO appeal hearings where judges ignored the removal, by someone in the PF's office, of key precognition statements by Police Officers so that these would not be presented at the original trial. Should we start to count the number of criminal offences involved there committed by someone working for the PF? Presumably Kenny was ok with that too since he attacked the Supreme Court for later refusing to ignore that evidence and told them to butt out and stop "interfering in the integrity of the Scots Law".

    As for Salmond taking his cue from MacAskill, is it not more likely that both took their cues from Angiolini? And we all know where the Crown stood on Megrahi and its wish to get that appeal delayed and ultimately buried.

    So no excuses Rolfe. MacAskill's duty here was from the beginning to stand back and recognise that this case needed to be reviewed in the Appeal Court. His duty was to acknowledge the remit of the SCCRC and ensure it was not obstructed in taking this case forward. His duty was to insist the Scottish Judiciary heard the appeal in the interests of justice. As a Justice Minister, he should surely want a justice system where the interests of justice take centre stage at all times? Yet on Lockerbie he failed spectacularly to put justice anywhere on his list of priorities.

  13. I think I'm with Jo here. No lawyer should be speculating about what really happened while wearing their lawyer's hat. They should simply be examining the evidence which convicted Megrahi and the evidence which has come to light since. And as Jo says, the vast majority of them who have studied the evidence from a legal point of view believe that Megrahi should have been found not guilty at Camp Zeist and that all the evidence which has come out since simply reinforces that belief. That is all that MacAskill and Salmond should be looking at. Until the verdict is overturned the rest of the world will accept Megrahi's guilt and there can be no significant progress towards oncovering the truth about Lockerbie.

  14. Rolfe I take your point that Salmond and MacAskill are probably convinced that Megrahi was involved in some way - after all, he was at Luqa airport using a false passport at the same time as the bomb was invisibly levitated on board KM180. If one accepts that, then the SCCRC's demolition of Tony Gauci's evidence may not be enough to clear Megrahi of all suspicion (something which could be achieved simply by reading the Opinion of the Court.)

    However, there does seem to be a softening of the official line, which was always that the SG ‘does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Al-Megrahi’. Now MacAskill just 'stand[s] by the conviction that there is in the Scottish courts' and allows that things might change: 'If that has to change, then that it would be a matter respected by me.' (I suppose 'Respected' could be taken to mean '...but not necessarily agreed with'.)

    MacAskill, in these cryptic remarks, seems to be acknowledging that the SCCRC report, or significant parts of it, will be in the public domain sooner or later, and also that a further appeal is possible. I'd take that as a positive sign.

  15. a propos all-knowing lawyers vs mere mortals...For me the most infuriating kind of lawyerly superiority is 'You have to understand the adversarial nature of our system.' By which they mean that it's fine to treat the most serious of cases as a kind of game in which anyone who bends the rules and gets away with it is admired for their cleverness.
    Sure, the adversarial system works most of the time, but at its base is an assumption that all advocates act with integrity and fairness.

    In the Zeist trial the Crown seems to have been prepared to break rules to the point of illegality, but even when the bench was aware of this, there was no censure.