Friday, 26 February 2016

Megrahi petition on agenda for Justice Committee meeting on 1 March

[Justice for Megrahi’s petition calling for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi is once again on the agenda of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee for the meeting to be held on 1 March 2016 commencing at 10.00 in Holyrood Committee Room 6. A paper prepared for the meeting by the committee’s clerk reads as follows:]

PE1370: Independent inquiry into the Megrahi conviction

Terms of petition
PE1370 (lodged 1 November 2010): 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.

Operation Sandwood
1. “Operation Sandwood‟ is the operational name for Police Scotland‟s investigation into Justice for Megrahi‟s (JFM) nine allegations of criminality levelled at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, police and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes relating to Megrahi‟s conviction. The allegations range from perverting of the course of justice to perjury. The Committee was previously advised that Police Scotland‟s report on this operation would be completed before the end of the 2015 but clerks understand that this is not the case.

Latest developments
2. On 21 September 2015 the Committee received a letter from JFM (Annexe A), which posed eight specific questions relating to the appointment of independent Counsel to evaluate the report arising at the conclusion of Operation Sandwood. Because the letter referred to information provided to JFM by the Lord Advocate, and had arrived so close to the date of the meeting (on 22 September), the Convener took the decision not to circulate it to members until the Lord Advocate had confirmed he was happy for it to be published. The response was circulated to Members after the meeting on 22 September and has been published on the Committee‟s webpage.

3. At the 22 September meeting, the Committee agreed to write to the Lord Advocate (Annexe B) seeking further information regarding the appointment of independent Counsel to evaluate the report arising from Police Scotland‟s Operation Sandwood. The letter asked for more information about (1) the appointment process itself, (2) whether the person appointed is a current or former prosecutor with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service or is a practising lawyer in another jurisdiction, and (3) what other measures or protocols have been put in place to guarantee the Counsel’s independence.

4. The Lord Advocate‟s short response dated 6 October (Annexe C) does not provide a direct response to these three points. It explains that he has not been involved in the Operation Sandwood investigation nor the appointment of independent counsel. The letter also states that the appointment was dealt with by officials who had no involvement in the Lockerbie investigation. The letter states that issues raised had been dealt with by the Lord Advocate‟s Office in their response to JFM‟s letter (Annexe D) dated 24 August, although again this letter does not directly address the three points the Committee raised.

5. JFM provided an additional submission to the Committee on 5 November 2015, (Annexe E) (forwarded to Members 9 November 2015) which includes reference to the eight specific questions posed to the Lord Advocate.

6. On 5 January 2016, the Committee agreed to write to the Lord Advocate (Annexe F), asking him to respond to JFM‟s most recent submission to the Committee (Annexe G) which questions the Lord Advocate‟s intention to appoint Catherine Dyer, the Crown Agent, as the Crown Office official responsible for coordinating matters with the “independent counsel‟. The Committee requested the Lord Advocate‟s response by 5 February. The response was not received until 9.44am on 23 February just before the start of the Committee meeting at 10 am.

7. The Lord Advocate‟s letter of 23 February (Annexe H) explains that 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 role includes providing an independent legal overview of the evidence, conclusions and recommendations and directing the inquiry when required.

8. The letter makes specific points in response to JFM’s criticism that the Crown Agent lacks sufficient impartiality to have any role in the investigation. No general comment is made in response to the Deputy Convener’s query as to “what procedures are in place to ensure an appropriate level of impartiality in instances where there have been complaints involving the COPFS’s handling of a case.”

9. The Committee has since received an additional submission from JFM dated 24 February 2016 (Annexe I). The letter reiterates their position with regards to the role of the current Crown Agent in the process and seeks clarification as to the appointment of the independent counsel. It also raises the question of the powers the COPFS might have to ignore or change the recommendations made by the independent counsel.

Options for action on petition PE1370

10. The Committee may wish to agree to:  

  • request more information regarding the progress of Operation Sandwood,
  • ask for more specific information about the appointment of the “independent” Crown Counsel, in line with the points made above,  
  • take no further action on the petition before dissolution (without closing it) and leave it for a future justice committee to decide what further action, if any, to take on it.

[RB: Annexes A to I, referred to above, can be accessed here.]

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