Sunday 15 January 2017

The Megrahi dilemma

[This is the headline over an editorial that appeared in The Herald on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]
Between a rock and a hard place. That is the uncomfortable territory Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan serving 27 years for the Lockerbie bombing, now appears to inhabit. As The Herald reveals today, secret talks have been held involving officials from the Westminster, Holyrood and Libyan governments that could lead to Megrahi being freed from Greenock prison and returned to his homeland. Not much of a predicament in that scenario to exercise Megrahi's mind, it might appear. But there is a catch. For Megrahi to be considered for repatriation, he must first abandon the appeal against his conviction.
Should he opt to be returned under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) between Libya and Britain (subject to parliamentary ratification in both countries in March), the final decision on repatriation will rest with Kenny MacAskill, the Holyrood Justice Secretary. He could reject the appeal but the diplomatic choreography suggests the process is likely to conclude with Megrahi boarding a flight for Tripoli, an outcome that would seem to be at odds with Alex Salmond's statement in April last year. The First Minister said then that Megrahi would serve his full sentence in Scotland and that he would defend the integrity of the Scottish judicial system.
Ministers can point to Megrahi's subsequent diagnosis with terminal prostate cancer as adding to the complexity of the appeal process. There is some truth in this. The Appeal Court has, correctly in our view, rejected his request for release on bail pending the hearing of his complex appeal. It is due to begin in some three months and could take one year. There are more than 1000 pages of submissions from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which concluded the conviction may have been unsafe, and from Megrahi's legal team.
Megrahi's return home under the PTA might seem a neat solution but it ignores several factors. Megrahi continues to plead innocence and wants to clear his name (the main witness against him has been largely discredited). Testing all the evidence, including the secret document, in an appeal hearing offers the best hope of establishing the truth about the Lockerbie bombing. The opportunity will be gone if there is no appeal. The prospect of securing any subsequent convictions, should that be a possibility, would be remote as the world has moved on and relations with the countries suspected of involvement, including Libya, Iran and Syria, have changed. If, however, the integrity and independence of the Scottish judicial system is paramount, the appeal process should be allowed to run its course and make a final determination. Justice should be blind, not thwarted by political or diplomatic convenience.

1 comment:

  1. Kind of shows how much influence Herald editorials have over the Crown Office.