Friday, 13 February 2015

The Justice Committee and the Crown Office

[The Official Report (Hansard) relating to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s consideration on 3 February 2015 of Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) calling for an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial can be accessed here. What follows is an excerpt:]

PE1370 is on an independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction. The committee has received the record of the latest meeting between the Justice for Megrahi campaign and Police Scotland and correspondence from JFM highlighting recent comments by the Lord Advocate on the Megrahi investigation. Do members have any comments to make on the material that we have received, or are we content simply to note the updates and the developments with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission application that are referred to in the paper? I should say that the application to the court will be sub judice—that is a little cautionary line for you. Are members content to continue the petition until we see the outcome of the other matters that are on-going?
I think that the committee is content to do so and I am pleased about that. However, it is important to pick up on some of the comments that were made by the Justice for Megrahi people, not least those on the role of the Lord Advocate in the broadest sense and not relating specifically to any on-going matter.
In September and December 2012 and, more recently, in December last year, the Lord Advocate compromised—to my mind—the potential for him to be viewed as an honest broker when it comes to receiving the report from Police Scotland. Although I am delighted that Police Scotland gets a ringing endorsement from the Justice for Megrahi committee for the diligent work that it is doing, there are challenges ahead that will relate not only to the delivery of the reports to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and that we might have some regard to in the future.
My point is similar but I go in the opposite direction, so I would need to get advice on this at some point. Setting aside the case in question and talking about the generality of people who have been convicted, I think that the Crown Office automatically assumes that they are guilty and will defend that position except when new evidence is brought forward for it to consider, perhaps for an appeal. My understanding has always been that, no matter what crime has been committed, the Crown Office cannot take a “mebbes aye, mebbes naw” attitude but must be clear that, if somebody has been convicted, that is how it is. My view is that the Crown Office will defend that position until new evidence comes forward, but I would need some advice on that.
I think that it is appropriate that, if somebody has been convicted, they are considered guilty—otherwise we would have turmoil within the justice system. However, I take your point and I have some comments to make on that myself.
I highlight the fact that, as Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone says in the note that the committee has received, “an independent QC” was appointed to provide “the police investigation with an appropriate level of scrutiny prior to reporting the findings to Crown Office, which was clearly not the normal procedure.” There is an acceptance that it is an unusual situation. I think that Mr Finnie’s comments should be tempered with that point.
“Tempered” was the word that I was thinking about. Another issue—however we get to the nub of it—is who investigates the Crown Office. The Crown Office cannot investigate itself. I think that that is where you are going with your comments, John, is it not?
Yes, indeed, and we looked at that area before. I should say that Mr Finnie always seeks to temper his comments and, believe you me, these are extremely tempered comments given what I would like to say.
There is an obligation on the committee to consider the issue when respected citizens are called “conspiracy theorists” and accusations that they make in good faith are described as deliberately false and misleading. That does not suggest that an open posture is being adopted by the COPFS.
Do you think that we are conspiracy theorists, John, as members of JFM?
I do not consider myself to be a conspiracy theorist.
Neither do I.

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