Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Lord Advocate criticised after Lockerbie response arrives only 15 minutes before MSPs meet

[This is the headline over a report in today’s edition of The National. It reads as follows:]

The Lord Advocate has come under fire at Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee [sic; this should read “Justice Committee”] after his office lodged a reply to a letter from it regarding the Lockerbie case minutes before its meeting started. Committee members wrote Frank Mulholland QC on January 12, seeking a response to calls made by the Justice for Megrahi (JfM) group for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town.

They also sought answers to JfM fears over the appointment of Crown Office chief executive Catherine Dyer as the Crown’s point of contact for Police Scotland’s Operation Sandwood into allegations of criminality surrounding the investigation.

However, the response was only handed to committee convener Christine Grahame 15 minutes before the committee meeting started.

She told MSPs: “I think as I’ve scolded Police Scotland I’ll scold the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office because we previously asked the Lord Advocate to respond to JfM’s latest submission. This morning, at 9.45 when I was sitting here ready to chair the committee, a response arrived. This is not good enough. It’s quite a short letter and can’t have taken long to write.”

Grahame then went on to read the letter, to “put it in the public domain”. It said Police Scotland was considering the JfM allegations “in accordance with due process”.

The letter added: “An independent senior counsel at the Scottish Bar with no prior involvement in the Lockerbie investigation and associated prosecution has been appointed to undertake prosecutorial functions in relation to the police investigation. This will include providing an independent legal overview of the evidence, conclusions, recommendations and directing the inquiry when required.”

It added that Mulholland did not agree that processes in place at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) needed to be amended to address the “sweeping and unfounded assertion that Scotland’s prosecution service cannot act independently in the public interest in a criminal investigation”.

Independent MSP John Finnie said: “We would have had some clarity if the Lord Advocate had provided JfM or indeed this committee with specific responses to the eight legitimate questions that were asked. And again I would make an appeal for that clarity.”

He also dismissed Mulholland’s claim that the allegations were being considered in accordance with due process, saying: “There’s been a significant deviation – for the better – from the normal process and that deviation is, and I quote the Lord Advocate ‘an independent senior counsel at the Scottish Bar with no prior involvement in the Lockerbie investigation and associated prosecution’.”

Iain McKie, a retired police officer and member of JfM, who attended the meeting, told The National: “The Lord Advocate has thrown down the gauntlet to the justice committee, saying ‘this is our business, we’ll deal with it’. I’m actually shocked at the Lord Advocate’s response because he owes a duty to Parliament and the people of Scotland to show independence in his prosecutorial role.”

A Crown Office spokesperson said: “The Lord Advocate has the utmost respect for the Justice Committee, and has provided information and assistance to it throughout this Parliament.

“As the Lord Advocate has made clear to the Justice Committee and JfM on a number of occasions, the Lord Advocate has had no involvement in the appointment of counsel undertaking this work other than to identify their criteria of independence and no previous involvement with the Lockerbie investigation.

“The counsel undertaking this work is not under the direction of the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate considers it important that any criminal allegations against persons who were representing the Crown are dealt with independently.

“As indicated above steps have been taken to ensure this is the case.” 

[RB: The committee’s Minute of Proceedings records that the committee agreed to write to the Lord Advocate expressing disappointment at his late reply to the Committee, and to consider the petition further at a future meeting.]

1 comment:

  1. The Lord Advocate singularly failed even to mention the principal concern of JFM, which is that Crown Office personnel are among those accused in the Operation Sandwood investigation. How is it possible that this single body can be both accused and judge?

    Appointing someone with a history of doing what she's told by the Crown Office and calling her "independent" is an insult.