Thursday, 9 February 2012

Official Report of Justice Committee evidence hearing

The Official Report (Hansard) of the session of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee held on Tuesday, 7 February 2012, at which evidence was taken (from Justice for Megrahi representatives amongst others) has now been published and can be read here.

[Following the Justice Committee session, the Scottish Conservatives issued a press release which reads as follows:]

Evidence given to the Justice Committee this morning has raised doubts over the effectiveness of the SNP Government's planned legislation to release documents detailing the reasons behind the release of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi.

Sir Gerald Gordon QC, a member of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), said that the publication of details would be hampered by data protection laws. Meanwhile, founding member of the Justice for Megrahi campaign, Dr. Jim Swire, confirmed that Megrahi would not consent to the release of certain information during his lifetime.

Scottish Conservative Justice Spokesman, David McLetchie MSP said:

"Sir Gerald Gordon's comments underline that this Bill will prove ineffective and the SNP Government should stop wasting parliamentary time in pandering to the Megrahi lobbyists.

"The fact is that Megrahi himself would block the release of all the evidence by refusing his consent, as was acknowledged by Dr. Swire and other campaigners today.

"Accordingly, having dropped his appeal in order to get out of jail courtesy of Kenny MacAskill, it appears he now only wants a partial release of information at least so as long as he is still alive. That is not my idea of justice."

[On the issue of Megrahi’s consent to disclosure, here is the statement that he issued on 30 June 2010:]

It has recently been wrongly reported that Mr Al-Megrahi refused to give his consent for the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to release documents relating to him, referred to in the Commission’s Statement of Reasons on his case, and its appendices, that he and his lawyers provided, either directly or indirectly, to the Commission. 

The true position is that Mr Al Megrahi, through his Libyan lawyer, made it clear to the Commission in a meeting on April 12th 2010 that he was happy for the documents to be released, providing all the official bodies that provided documents to the Commission agreed to the release of all of those documents. These bodies include the police, the Crown Office, the Foreign Office, and the intelligence service, or services, which provided the secret documents referred to in Chapter 25 sources of the Statement of Reasons. 

Mr Al Megrahi’s position has always been, and remains, that all information relating to the case should be made public.

[An exchange of correspondence on this issue between David McLetchie MSP and Megrahi's biographer John Ashton can be found here on the Megrahi: You are my Jury website.]


  1. Megrahi wants full disclosure of all the information, but his lawyer’s letter qualified that disclosure.

    There may be good legal, practical or unimportant reasons for this, but politically the headline message becomes Megrahi restricts disclosure.

    David McLetchie spun this further by saying Megrahi’s is opposed to disclosure and just playing the system.

    This is effective tactics, because he is trying to influence public opinion and undermine political support for SCCRC disclosure.

    This matters because a lack of political will has always been the obstacle to resolving this case.

    Iain McKie did counter McLetchie, by making the effective political point that dealing with the issue would restore trust in the justice system, enhance the Scottish Parliament and be the patriotic thing to do.

    But a legal explanation of why Megahi’s lawyer qualified disclosure is needed too.

  2. Well done to all JFM members at yesterday’s meeting.

    It is somewhat frustrating that Mr McLetchie led some of the discussion over old and heavily-trodden ground with which he seems intent on focussing on, in the wider scheme, periphery issues which entirely evade the core question: is Mr Megrahi’s conviction safe and based on all available evidence? The answer is, or should be, critical for anyone who believes in the institutions of law and justice, and indeed for some, impinges on the very legitimacy sought by politicians and courts to function with the people’s trust.

    Nevertheless, let us for a moment accept the implication put forward by Mr McLetchie, wrongly, that Mr Megrahi is reluctant to see the full release of the SCCRC reasons, then why would anyone wish to pursue the ends of justice beyond that?

    This, then, seems Mr McLetchie would be quite satisfied for all his determinations and evaluations on crucial matters of life and the institutions of society were restricted and dictated to him by other individuals? Why should all the available information, already concluded by the SCCRC, not be made available for wider deliberation on the insistence of, to all intents and purposes, the convicted? Indeed anyone else for that matter?

    It is simply absurd that any polity which regards itself as advanced, free or just, would happily deprive itself of all available knowledge or facts on matters fundamental to its beliefs and justice system at the discretion of others or at the whim of politicians.

    During an important point made by Mr McKie, he alluded to something that appears persistently to be unaccounted for by the politicians, the lawyers and our institutions: “[…] not as important as the rights of the Lockerbie deceased and their families and the good name of Scotland. Somebody will have to make difficult decisions.”

    The rights of the deceased have not been given due weight throughout the consideration on the disclosure of the SCCRC reasons, far less upheld in the manner any living member would and should demand in any just society over the last 22 years.

    The information provided by those who may or may not have something which may pertain to the circumstances of the deceased are apparently afforded greater value in the search for justice for those whose most basic right of all, to life, were violated. The desecration of their rights should be paramount and arguably prevail over all other claims to rights by the living. We are wrapped up in the rights of those providing information, and of anyone convicted on the issue, granting them greater authority in determining ultimate aims of justice, while the 270 who died over Lockerbie and those lives subsequently impacted – together with the wider rights of all in society – are all but forgotten.

    This should not be the ‘difficult decision’ that it has become, and need not be the ‘difficult decision’ the politicians and institution would have us believe.

  3. The media will play McLetchie's tune on this, although coming from him the public may not listen.

    But emotional scenes in the media, becomes background noise for people armed with the facts.

    This is why John Ashton needs to urgently send his exchange of correspondence with McLetchie to all Justice Committee members and MSPs.

    This should be accompanied with a general patriotic appeal to do the right thing for Scotland.

    This is needed to reassure nervous, but sympathetic MSPs to back full SCCRC disclosure.

  4. McLetchie was a disgrace. His contempt for Megrahi was clear every time he uttered the man's name.

    That aside I found proceedings at the hearing frustrating. Particularly when the Official Secrets Act came into play. Eh? The OS Act is irrelevant so why even discuss it. And so, for that matter, is Data Protection Law. A trial is a trial and the information held would have come out at Appeal so why are so many politicians using every tactic imaginable to stop that SCCRC report being published in full? Easy answer. Because they don't want the truth to come out.

    I can't think of any reason why anyone would wish to defend the "tactics" adopted by McLetchie at the hearing. They were quite despicable and considering we were discussing a possible miscarriage of justice in a case involving the loss of so many lives they were also shocking. But then he's a Tory and perhaps he's trying to protect Thatcher, the Tory who assisted when the whole Lockerbie investigation turned its eyes to Libya for no good reason whatsoever other than the US President at the time said that's how it would be.