Ever since the release, in August 2009, of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, there has long been some disquiet about whether pressure was brought to bear on him by the Scottish Government.
This was largely because the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, held a private meeting in Greenock Prison with Megrahi before sanctioning his release on compassionate grounds as he was expected to live for only about three months. Mr MacAskill's statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday that he did not suggest to the then Libyan Foreign Minister that it would expedite the release if Megrahi were to withdraw his appeal against his conviction counters one of the allegations made this week in the authorised biography of Megrahi. But there is a danger that the political dimension to this claim diverts attention from more far-reaching questions about the conviction.
Mr MacAskill insists the Scottish Government had no interest in Megrahi's appeal being abandoned. Although Megrahi withdrew his appeal, it would be possible for a posthumous one to be sought. If that is the wish of Megrahi's family or of relatives of victims of the atrocity, it should not be thwarted.
The accumulation of allegations of disturbing discrepancies about the evidence led in the trial and information withheld from the defence are among several areas of doubt and some disquiet.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) had found six grounds on which Megrahi's conviction was potentially unsafe. The Scottish Government says it wants publication in the interests of transparency but this is subject to data protection law which is reserved to Westminster. With the publication of the biography, written by a researcher for Megrahi's legal team, much of that material is now in the public domain. The argument that publication would breach data protection law cannot now be sustained and, since any biographer must be selective, it is overwhelmingly in the public interest that the SCCRC's statement of reasons for approving the appeal is now published.
Similar arguments over the power to hold an inquiry should also be resolved in the public interest. Despite the Scottish Government's assertion that it would be willing to co-operate in a joint inquiry, the suspicion lingers that there is little enthusiasm for a process that could cast the Scottish judicial system in a poor light. That might be so but it does not serve the interests of justice or, indeed, the victims' families.
[An equally forthright editorial was published in The Herald on 28 February. It can be read here.]