Thursday, 25 September 2014

Many Scots feel that Megrahi was unjustly convicted

[What follows is an excerpt from an article published on this date in 2009 in The New York Times and reproduced on this blog:]

In Scotland, opinion polls show a mixed reaction to the Megrahi release. A BBC poll found the majority were opposed to the decision. But polls in local newspapers found heavy majorities applauding it, and in an Internet poll conducted by The Firm, a magazine for lawyers, judges and others in the legal profession, some 69 percent of responders said they supported the release.

And, as a complicating factor, many Scots — including influential members of the legal establishment — feel that Mr Megrahi was unjustly convicted and should never have been imprisoned in the first place.

Among them are Robert Black, the lawyer who helped broker the deal to hold the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands rather than in Scotland; and Hans Koechler, the United Nations observer at the trial, who called the guilty verdict “inconsistent” and “arbitrary,” and has been a harsh critic of Scottish justice.

Mr Megrahi has always maintained his innocence. His first appeal failed, but an influential group called the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission then referred his case back for another appeal, saying that it believed he “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.”

Mr Megrahi dropped the appeal in August, a tactic that he thought would help his chances of being released early, his lawyer said. But he has begun publishing on the Internet the legal arguments he had planned to use, as a way toward establishing his innocence.

In the Scottish Parliament, Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s justice secretary, defended his decision to release Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds, saying that humanity “is viewed as a defining characteristic” of Scotland.

In fact, releasing terminally ill prisoners is fairly standard practice in Scotland. Since 1997, 31 prisoners, including Mr Megrahi, have applied for compassionate release. Twenty-four have had their applications granted; the remaining seven did not meet the medical criteria, in which, generally, the prisoner is deemed likely to die within three months.

“Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available,” Mr MacAskill told Parliament. “Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown.”

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