[The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament will be resuming consideration of Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) at its meeting on 23 February 2016 commencing at 10.00 in Holyrood Committee Room 2. The relevant note 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.
17. “Operation Sandwood‟ is the operational name for Police Scotland‟s investigation into JFM‟s 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. Police Scotland‟s report of this operation is expected to be completed before the end of the year. The Committee has received a number of updates from JFM asking that an “independent prosecutor‟ be appointed to assess the findings of Operation Sandwood.
18. The Committee previously wrote to the Lord Advocate seeking his views on the appointment of an „independent prosecutor‟ as proposed by JFM. His response outlined arrangements made by COPFS to employ independent Crown Counsel not involved in the Lockerbie case to deal with the matter. JFM have rejected the involvement of independent Crown Counsel as they consider it does not represent an “independent, unbiased and constitutionally sound approach”. The Committee sought further information regarding the appointment of an independent prosecutor in September 2015 to which the Lord Advocate reiterated his earlier response.
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
19. On 5 November 2015, 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.”
20. On 5 January 2016, the Committee agreed to write again to the Lord Advocate, asking him to respond to JFM‟s most recent submission to the Committee which questions the Lord Advocate‟s intention to appoint Catherine Dyer, the Crown Agent, as the Crown Office official responsible for co-ordinating matters with the “independent counsel‟. The Committee requested the Lord Advocate‟s response by 5 February. At the time of writing this response has not been received. It will be circulated to members and published on the Committee‟s website as soon as it is received.
21. In the interim, JFM has provided a submission to the Committee outlining their disappointment that a response from the Lord Advocate has not yet been received (Annexe D).
Options for action on petition PE1370
22. The Committee may wish to agree to:
- keep the petition open and recommend that a future justice committee continues to monitor these issues and, in particular, progress with Operation Sandwood, or
- take any other action in relation to the petition that the Committee considers appropriate (including closing the petition).
Justice for Megrahi submission for the consideration of PE1370 by the Justice Committee on 23 February 2016
Since the last consideration of PE 1370, on 5 January 2016, nothing of import has emerged from either the Lord Advocate or the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) that clarifies their position re JfM‟s request that a prosecutor entirely independent of COPFS, and who had been appointed independently of said body, receive and consider the final Police Scotland Operation Sandwood report.
On 12th January 2016, the Deputy Convenor of the Justice Committee wrote to the Lord Advocate asking that he address JFM‟s concerns over the manner in which he was dealing with our request for total independence from the Crown Office in the consideration of the Operation Sandwood report.
When this letter was posted on the Parliament website JfM expressed some concern that the terms of the agreement reached at the Justice Committee on 5th January to write to the Lord Advocate appeared not to have been fully met in that the 8 questions we asked the committee to put to the Lord Advocate had not been referred to. We are unaware if this issue had been resolved.
The Deputy Convenor afforded the Lord Advocate a full month in which to respond. At the time of writing, we believe that he is in default as no reply has yet been received by the Justice Committee.
Given that the submission of Police Scotland‟s Operation Sandwood report to the Crown Office is imminent this is a most unsatisfactory position.
It is clearly against the public and a constitutional interest that the Lord Advocate has so far failed to confirm that the police report will be considered by an authority entirely separate from the Crown Office and totally free from its influence or to lay out clearly what his intentions are.
Thus, JFM appeals to the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament to exercise whatever means it has at its disposal to ensure that before the Operation Sandwood Report is submitted that your committee and JfM are fully briefed on how this report will be considered and who will consider it.