Thursday, 23 April 2015

Official Report of consideration of Megrahi petition

[What follows is the text of the Official Report (Hansard) of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s consideration of Justice for Megrahi’s petition on Tuesday, 21 April 2015:]

The Convener (Christine Grahame, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, SNP): PE1370 calls for an independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction. We have received an update from Justice for Megrahi on its latest meeting with Police Scotland—the update is available at annex B of paper J/S4/15/12/1. Justice for Megrahi asks us to consider the principle of appointing an independent prosecutor to consider the forthcoming Police Scotland report. Separately, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has asked the High Court for a ruling on the legal status of the victims’ relatives, to enable it to decide whether they can pursue an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf. A date for a full hearing is yet to be fixed. Do members have any comments on those developments?

I declare that I am a member of the Justice for Megrahi campaign.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): The request is entirely reasonable, and I would hope that the committee would throw its weight behind it. There is an independent Queen’s counsel who is assisting with the on-going police investigation. The reports that we have received are very encouraging. Certainly, Justice for Megrahi seems to have “full confidence” in Police Scotland, which is welcome. Police Scotland has said that it will act as an honest broker and thoroughly investigate the incidents that have been alleged in good faith. Of course, it is what happens thereafter that is the challenge. However, I suggest that there is precedent in the system, given that an independent QC is assisting with the police inquiry.

Roderick Campbell (North East Fife) (SNP): I have a couple of points. On the procedural hearings to determine whether a reference to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission can go ahead, we have to wait and watch. That is a very good reason for keeping the petition open. On an independent prosecutor, we should not take a decision without specifically referring the matter to the Crown Office and asking for its comments.

The Convener: My concern is whether it would be competent for the committee to appoint an independent prosecutor. I concur with Roddy Campbell on asking the Crown Office for its comments. I see that John Finnie wants to come back in. I am just giving my views—I am not summing up. I also suggest that we ask the Government for its views on competence in relation to the appointment of an independent prosecutor.

John Finnie: For the avoidance of doubt, I was not saying that that is in the committee’s gift; I was saying that we should lend our support to Justice for Megrahi’s calls for such an appointment to be made. Clearly, there will be a role for the statutory prosecuting office, which is the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Roddy Campbell’s point about the SCCRC is interesting, but it is a separate issue altogether.

The Convener: It is indeed. That is not a problem for us because, with regard to that part of the process, we must wait and see what happens at any full hearing The issue of the roles of the Crown Office and the police throughout is a separate matter.

I take the view that we need to find out the position on who would investigate the Crown Office. How would one go about that? I do not know whether that has ever happened. I am looking around for guidance.

John Finnie: Should we not assume that that is part of the on-going police inquiry? In some respects, the issue is more that, 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.

The Convener: Does anyone else want in? I see that Roderick Campbell is shaking his head.

Roderick Campbell: No—I just think that it is premature.

The Convener: That is because we are waiting for the police report.
Do members want me to write to find out whether, in principle, an independent prosecutor could be considered?

John Finnie: It would be interesting to hear the Lord Advocate’s views on that.

The Convener: Okay.

John Finnie: It is clear that, given his prior involvement in the case, he will not be able to have any direct hands-on role anyway in any report that is received.

The Convener: Yes. Frankly, some of the Lord Advocate’s comments during hearings on the petition were not helpful. That may in some ways colour one’s feeling of being content that there is—I hesitate to say—an independence of spirit. What are we going to do? Will we continue the petition? Who will we write to? I seek members’ guidance.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con): Is the key issue not that we should wait until the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has reported on the victims’ status?

The Convener: Well, there are two issues. The issue that you raise is not a problem—it is fine; we will just wait for the full hearing. We will keep the petition open for that reason. The question is whether we should take any action in relation to an independent prosecutor.

John Finnie: I suggest that we write to the Lord Advocate to ask for his views on that question. Alternatively, we could ask how, given his prior personal involvement, he would envisage being able to take forward a report that was presented to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service by Police Scotland.

The Convener: Do you want us to refer to some of the comments that have already been made by the Crown Office? Do you want to be as pointed as that?

Roderick Campbell: I would prefer the request to be neutral. The committee can relay the petitioners’ position and comments, but without expressing a view on the matter.

The Convener: What we have already heard and said is on the record. We will write a fairly neutral letter. Are members agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener: Thank you. We will keep the petition open.

No comments:

Post a Comment