Monday, 26 March 2018

Justice for Megrahi written submission to Justice Committee

Justice for Megrahi's written submission to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee for its meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, 27 March) is now available on the Parliament website. It reads as follows:]

Ex-Scottish Government Ministers: Political Consequences of Public Statements

On 28th June 2011 the Public Petitions Committee referred the Justice for Megrahi (JfM ) petition PE1370 to the Justice Committee for consideration. Its terms were as follows.

‘Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to open an independent 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.’ 

The petition was first heard by the Justice Committee on 8th November 2011. On 6th June, 2013, as part of its consideration, the Justice Committee wrote to Kenny MacAskill MSP, then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, asking for the Government’s comments on our request for a public enquiry.

In his reply of 24th June 2013, while acknowledging, that under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Scottish Ministers had the power to establish an inquiry, he concluded:

‘Any conclusions reached by an inquiry would not have any effect on either upholding or overturning the conviction as it is appropriately a court of law that has this power. In addition to the matters noted above, we would also note that Lockerbie remains a live on-going criminal investigation. In light of the above, the Scottish Government has no plans to institute an independent inquiry into the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi.’ 

At this time Alex Salmond was the First Minister and with Mr MacAskill was intimately involved in the release of Mr Megrahi on 20th August 2009, a decision which caused worldwide controversy.

Members will be aware that since leaving office both Mr MacAskill and Mr Salmond have commented publicly on the Megrahi conviction indicating that their opinions on the guilt of Mr Megrahi and the findings of the court might have changed somewhat since they left office.

A selection of these statements is shown in the attached appendix ‘A’.

Certain of these statements refer to pressures that were placed on the Scottish Government by outside governments and agencies which have until now been hidden, and which had the potential to affect their decisions.

They also raise important political issues which will not be the subject of the ongoing police investigation and eventual consideration by Crown Office.

It is not clear for instance how many of the issues raised in these public pronouncements were known to Mr MacAskill and Mr Salmond at the time of Mr Megrahi’s compassionate release on 20th August 2009 and whether, and how, that information impacted on what was stated at the time to be purely a compassionate release.

Questions arise as to whether any of their statements came from confidential information gleaned while they were serving ministers and had the potential to materially affect the ongoing criminal investigation and any potential appeal submission by the Megrahi family to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Rather than adding clarity to the situation they have only served to raise further important questions in respect of the guilt or otherwise of Mr Megrahi and the safety of his conviction and raised doubts about the political decisions which were made in respect of issues like our enquiry request and Mr Megrahi’s compassionate release.

We believe that aside from the relevance to any criminal investigation and possible appeal, which should be dealt with by the appropriate authorities, they raise wider political issues which can only be resolved within the Scottish Parliament.

• Was any confidential information misused in making these statements?
• What is the legal and political position of former senior ministers making public statements containing information, confidential or otherwise, obtained while serving in the Scottish Government and which relate to ongoing police and Crown Office criminal enquiries?
• Was the decision to grant compassionate release to Mr Megrahi based on internal and external pressures on the Government not admitted at the time?
• Did the facts and opinions now being revealed adversely affect JfM’s petition for a public enquiry when the request was initially turned down and should that decision be reconsidered in light of them?

A summary of other relevant questions is shown at Appendix ‘B’ to this submission.

Such political enquiry will not of course affect the ongoing criminal investigations but might cast more light on the political background to them and assist in an overall assessment of the whole Lockerbie question.

As things stand these public statements, about matters relevant to the Scottish Government's decision on an inquiry and the wider need for openness and accountability by ministers past and present particularly where confidential information is involved, are unchallenged.

JfM greatly values the committee’s continuing critical political oversight, which we believe is very much in the public interest, of matters related to our petition. These latest pronouncements by two senior politicians have undoubted relevance to our petition for an enquiry and to wider political matters related to Lockerbie.

We believe that in the interest of accountability and openness the Justice Committee should request, as a matter of urgency, that Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill appear before it to account for their statements, in order to explore related matters affecting our petition and to serve the wider interests of Parliament and public.

The political issues raised by these interventions will not be the subject of police or Crown Office enquiry but have a direct relevance to the original rejection of our petition by the Scottish Government. They also highlight the political culture in which Lockerbie related decisions were being made.

It is our sincere belief that such a political intervention is long overdue. It is not good enough for the committee to decide to defer these matters until Crown Office has considered the Operation Sandwood report or the SCCRC has made a decision re the Megrahi family submission for a further appeal.

It should be noted that we are not asking the committee to intervene in issues directly related to the investigation and prosecution of crime or any appeal process. We are asking for complementary action purely in respect of the public statements made by Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill which have impacted, and continue to impact, on Government and parliamentary decision making in relation to all Lockerbie matters past and present, including our petition.

1 comment:

  1. The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee's consideration of the Megrahi petition can be viewed here (starting at 11.29.05):