[This is the headline over a report (behind the paywall) in today’s edition of The Sunday Times. It reads in part:]
Lord advocate will play no part in any further investigation into the bombing, writes Mark Macaskill
Scotland’s lord advocate has signalled for the first time that he will play no role in prosecutions linked to the Lockerbie bombing if a fresh police investigation unearths evidence of criminality by Crown Office staff.
Allegations being examined by Police Scotland include claims that some Crown Office staff concealed or tampered with evidence to ensure Libya took the blame for the 1988 atrocity.
Last week, members of the Scottish parliament’s justice committee declared support for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to ensure public confidence in further investigations and agreed to seek assurances from the lord advocate that he would play no part in fresh prosecutions. Concerns were also raised that Frank Mulholland, the lord advocate, cannot be objective and impartial because he has expressed confidence in the guilt of Abdelbaset Ali al- Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing, and the integrity of the case against him.
“Frankly, some of the lord advocate’s comments during hearings on the petition were not helpful,” said Christine Grahame, the committee’s convener. “That may in some ways colour one’s feeling of being content that there is — I hesitate to say — an independence of spirit.”
John Finnie, an independent MSP, added: “When the police come to submit their report, they are, as things stand, submitting it to someone who has already prejudged the situation with intemperate remarks.” Finnie said it would be “interesting to hear the lord advocate’s views” on the merits of an independent prosecutor.
On Friday, the Crown Office said moves had already been made internally to appoint an independent prosecutor. “The lord advocate already anticipated this as an issue some time ago and decided it would be improper for him to personally deal with the matter. Arrangements have already been put in place for an independent crown counsel, who has not been involved in the Lockerbie case, to deal with this matter if and when the need arises.”
Senior detectives have been investigating claims by the Justice for Megrahi group — which believes Megrahi, who died in 2012, was framed for bringing down Pan Am flight 103, killing 270 people — that police officers, crown officials and expert witnesses concealed or tampered with evidence.
The group has previously questioned the “objectivity and independence” of Mulholland and former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill. In 2013, the group asked the International Association of Prosecutors to look at how they dealt with allegations against the Crown Office and police which handled the Lockerbie case.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is looking at the conviction of Megrahi and has asked the High Court for guidance on whether victims’ families can make an appeal on the Libyan’s behalf. It seeks to determine whether individuals such as Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing, can be classed as having a “legitimate interest” in pursuing the appeal in the event it refers the case to the High Court for a third appeal.
[RB: It appears that what the Lord Advocate is proposing is that an advocate-depute -- ie a Crown Office prosecutor -- who has had no previous dealings with the Lockerbie case should assume responsibility for assessing the Police Scotland report. This is simply not good enough. Any special prosecutor appointed must be entirely independent of the Crown Office. It is the Crown Office as an institution that has prejudged Justice for Megrahi’s criminality allegations.]