Sunday, 27 December 2015

A slow-motion version of pass the parcel

[What follows is excerpted from an item posted on this blog on this date in 2011:]

We must have Lockerbie inquiry, no matter the cost

[This is the headline over an editorial in today's edition of The Herald.  It reads as follows:]

As Pamela Dix, whose brother died in the Lockerbie bombing, says: "It is unfinished business." Now one more step has been taken towards unravelling the uncertainty that has hung over this case ever since that awful December night 23 years ago.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has revealed that he has the go-ahead under the Data Protection Act from Kenneth Clarke, his opposite number in the UK Government, to publish the 800-page Statement of Reasons from the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC). This document explains the grounds for appealing the conviction of the Libyan Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only person convicted of the atrocity. It was never published because the appeal itself was dropped when he was released on compassionate grounds in August 2009.

It emerged earlier this year that legislation going through Holyrood could not guarantee publication because the material would continue to be subject to UK data protection legislation. Now that potential hurdle appears to have been removed.

If, as the Scottish Government maintains, it supports the maximum possible transparency in this case, it is apposite to ask why it took some time to make an official approach to the Westminster Justice Department regarding this matter. For years the UK and Scottish governments have played a slow-motion version of pass the parcel with this case, with neither seemingly prepared to increase the snail's pace progress and the prospect of political advantage (or damage) playing its part.

The imminent publication of John Ashton's biography of Megrahi may force the pace as, once the material is public, SCCRC will be free to publish it themselves. It is not clear how much further it will take us. The document dates from 2007. Fresh material and new forensic techniques have appeared in the interim. Also, in the interests of national security, some items and passages will be redacted.

Regardless of whether or not the man convicted of this crime is guilty as charged, others must have been involved. There are still many unanswered questions. Only a full and wide-ranging independent public inquiry can tackle these issues. This case may show the quality of Scottish justice in a poor light but ultimately getting at the truth is more important. It is also what the relatives of those who died desire and deserve.

[This editorial follows on from an article by chief reporter Lucy Adams which contains the following:]

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has revealed he has received assurances from the UK Government to help smooth the path to publication of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's (SCCRC) long-awaited report.

Mr MacAskill wrote to the UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke earlier this month to ask the Coalition Government to remove obstacles presented by the Data Protection Act 1998, which is reserved to the UK Parliament, to enable a Scottish Government Bill to be put forward.

Mr Clarke has replied to say he is happy for his officials to discuss the matter directly with the SCCRC to find out more information about the barriers to publication of its Statement of Reasons in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi.

The Scottish Government has responded by providing contact details for the SCCRC to facilitate discussions. (...)

The chief executive of the SCCRC said that, regardless of the legislation going through the Scottish Parliament, the commission still had to "comply with the requirement of the Data Protection Act 1998 which is, of course, UK-wide legislation".

Robert Black, QC, one of the architects of the original trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, said the Scottish legislation was a "waste" of time. (...)

It is thought Megrahi's official biography, expected early next year, will contain much of the detail from the report. If it does, that could free the commission to publish the full report because it will already be in the public domain.

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