Thursday, 4 August 2016

Minister visits Lockerbie bomber

[This is the headline over a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

Scotland's justice secretary has visited the Lockerbie bomber amid speculation he might be moved to Libya.

Kenny MacAskill met Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi in Greenock Prison as he considers a transfer request from the Libyan government.

The minister has already heard the views of others, including relatives of some of the 270 victims of the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Terminally-ill Megrahi has also asked to be freed on compassionate grounds.

The transfer request was made by Libya to the UK government last May, less than a week after a treaty allowing prisoners to be transferred between the two countries was ratified.

Under the agreement, the country holding a prisoner should give its answer within 90 days.

Decisions about prisoners are the responsibility of the Scottish Government, in effect giving Mr MacAskill the final say.

Mr MacAskill said last week he would miss the 90-day deadline, which expired on 3 August, because he was waiting for more information.

No transfer can take place if criminal proceedings are active, meaning Megrahi would have to drop his latest appeal against his conviction in order to be sent home.

He was ordered to remain in prison for a minimum of 27 years having been found guilty of murdering 270 people in the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103.

Mr MacAskill has embarked upon a series of consultations with interested parties, including relatives of American victims with whom he held a video conference.

While unusual for a minister to discuss a prisoner's case with him while he remains in jail, Mr MacAskill is understood to believe the visit is important to allow him to consider all of the facts.

Megrahi's legal team have also made a separate request for him to released from prison on compassionate grounds as he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer.

An earlier request, made in October 2008, was rejected by Appeal Court judges after they heard medical evidence that with adequate palliative care, Megrahi could live for several years.

The court heard that such requests are normally only granted where a prisoner has less than three months to live.

[RB: Following criticism directed towards Mr MacAskill for visiting Megrahi, I commented on this blog as follows:]

The visit by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to Abdelbaset Megrahi became inevitable as soon as Mr MacAskill decided, presumably after taking advice from his officials, to take representations in person (and not just in writing) from interested persons, such as relatives of those killed on Pan Am 103. He could not, while complying with the requirement of procedural fairness incumbent upon him, offer the opportunity to make representations in person to categories of interested persons while denying that opportunity to the prisoner himself.

Are the politicians who have rushed to criticise Kenny MacAskill for meeting Abdelbaset Megrahi prepared to criticise him for meeting (in person in some cases, by video link in others) Lockerbie relatives? If not, their criticism is based on a misunderstanding of the legal position and reflects on them, not on Mr MacAskill.

[Abdelbaset Megrahi’s own account of this meeting (Megrahi: You are my Jury, page 354) reads as follows:]

… MacAskill visited me in Greenock Prison. It was a controversial decision which drew much criticism from the media and the relatives of the American victims. I reiterated what I’d said in my application and again emphasised my innocence. He was courteous throughout and gave the impression of being strong-minded yet gentle. Prior to the meeting I’d obtained a copy of his book Building a Nation, as I wanted to know more about his political views. He was no doubt surprised when I asked him to sign it, but he agreed to do so. I promised him jokingly that I would not run off and tell the media.

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