[Justice for Megrahi’s petition calling for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (PE1370) features on the agenda for the meeting of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee to be held on 5 January 2016 at 10.00 in Holyrood Committee Room 4. The Committee Clerk’s paper on the agenda item reads as follows:]
PE1370: Independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction – Lodged: 01 November 2010
Terms of the petition
The petition on behalf of Justice for Megrahi (JFM), calls for the opening of an inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.
At its meeting on 21 April 2015, the Committee considered an update received from Justice for Megrahi, which included a request to consider the appointment of an “independent prosecutor” to assess the findings of the forthcoming Police Scotland investigation known as “Operation Sandwood”. 'Sandwood' is the operational designation for Police Scotland's investigation of JFM‟s nine allegations of criminality levelled at Crown, police and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes relating to the Lockerbie/Zeist affair which led to Megrahi‟s conviction. The allegations range from perversion of the course of justice to perjury. Police Scotland‟s final “Sandwood” report is expected to be completed before the end of the year.
The Committee previously agreed to write to the Lord Advocate seeking his views on the appointment of an “independent prosecutor”. His response outlined arrangements made by the Crown Office to employ an independent Crown Counsel who had not been involved in the Lockerbie case to deal with the matter. JFM have reject the involvement of an independent Crown Counsel because it does not represent an “independent, unbiased and constitutionally sound approach.‟
Police Scotland regularly meets with JFM to discuss ongoing issues regarding the case. At its meeting of 28 April officers highlighted the appointment of an independent QC to enhance the professional integrity of the investigation separate from the appointment by the Crown office.
High Court ruling
Separately, in December 2014 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission 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. It ruled in July that the victims’ relatives had no legitimate interest to institute an appeal against the deceased‟s conviction. It appears that the only method by which an appeal against the deceased conviction could be instigated is through the deceased‟s relatives or the executor of his estate. Whilst there have been some reports indicating that Megrahi’s family wish to be involved in an appeal, the Court proceeded on the basis that the SCCRC‟s reference was on behalf only of certain victims of the bombing.
Following consideration of the petition on 22 September, the Committee agreed to write to the Lord Advocate again requesting more information about the appointment of an independent prosecutor to examine the findings of the Police investigation “Operation Sandwood”. The response, attached in Annexe C does not add to the earlier response provided and cites an earlier response sent to JFM (Annexe D) which the committee had sight of last time I considered the petition. [RB: These two annexes are to be found at the end of the committee papers.]
JFM have now responded directly to members reiterating their concerns about the impartiality of the COPF in handling this case and have sought assurances that independent consideration of the police investigation be agreed to. To date both the Scottish Government and COPF have concluded this is not necessary.
Clerks expect a further response from JFM in due course. This will be forwarded to members as soon as it is received. [RB: A lengthy response has been submitted by JFM to the committee. Once it appears on the Justice Committee’s section of the Scottish Parliament website, I shall reproduce it on this blog.]
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
On 5 November the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) announced that: “it is not in the interests of justice” to continue with a review of the conviction of the late Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. Consequently, the application has been refused.”
In a news release published that day The Commission‟s Chairman, Jean Couper said:
“A great deal of public money and time was expended on the Commission‟s original review of Mr Megrahi‟s case which resulted, in 2007, in him being given the opportunity to challenge his conviction before the High Court by way of a second appeal. In 2009, along with his legal team, Mr Megrahi decided to abandon that appeal. Before agreeing to spend further public money on a fresh review the Commission required to consider the reasons why he chose to do so. It is extremely frustrating that the relevant papers, which the Commission believes are currently with the late Mr Megrahi‟s solicitors, Messrs Taylor and Kelly, and with the Megrahi family, have not been forthcoming despite repeated requests from the Commission. Therefore, and with some regret, we have decided to end the current review. It remains open in the future for the matter to be considered again by the Commission, but it is unlikely that any future application will be accepted for review unless it is accompanied with the appropriate defence papers. This will require the cooperation of the late Mr Megrahi’s solicitors and his family.”
The Committee can:
Keep the petition open and monitor the progress of “Operation Sandwood”,
Take any other action in relation to the petition that the Committee considers appropriate (including closing the petition).