Monday, 24 November 2014

Labour Government: Megrahi prisoner transfer inclusion in UK's overwhelming interests

Another anniversary

On 24 November 2003, the High Court of Justiciary, sitting in Glasgow, determined that Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted on 31 January 2001 in the Scottish Court in the Netherlands for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, should serve 27 years in prison before becoming eligible for release on licence from his life sentence. The trial judges' original recommendation that he serve at least twenty years of the life sentence before being considered for release, required to be reconsidered following changes in Scots penal law following the incorporation into domestic law of the European Convention on Human Rights. The "punishment part" of 27 years now imposed (by the same three judges as had imposed the original sentence) was backdated to April 1999, when Megrahi was remanded in custody to await trial. Both the Crown and the defence have appealed the 27-year punishment part, but it is unlikely that these appeals will be heard unless and until Megrahi's new appeal is dismissed.

Straw denies Megrahi interference

[What follows is the text of a report on the BBC News website.]

Jack Straw has denied a suggestion the UK government guided Scottish ministers to release the Lockerbie bomber from prison on compassionate grounds.

But ministers did tell the Scottish government prior to Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's release the UK government was not seeking his death in custody.

Mr Straw, the UK Justice Secretary, has been giving evidence to the Commons Justice Committee.

Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was released in August.

Tory MP Douglas Hogg challenged Mr Straw when he stated that in effect Westminster was guiding Scottish ministers to free the Libyan, but the justice secretary insisted it was entirely a matter for the Scottish government.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill decided to grant Megrahi a compassionate release after seeking medical advice on his condition.

Mr Straw originally intended to exclude Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement signed with Tripoli by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, but he later changed his mind.

In documents published in the aftermath of the Libyan's release, Mr Straw told the Scottish government it was in the UK's overwhelming interests not to exclude Megrahi.

Mr Straw said strong relations with Libya were important and that it would not be sensible to risk damaging them.

Both the Holyrood and Westminster administrations deny any pressure was applied on Mr MacAskill over the decision.

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