Thursday, August 20, 2009

MacAskill and Megrahi - the decision and the aftermath

I have to be honest and say that I don't envy Kenny MacAskill. The decision he has had to make on the future of Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber is a hard one. He faces pressure from all sides.

On one hand, the irrefutable medical evidence that Megrahi has aggressive, terminal prostate cancer and has only a few months left to live. If he were anyone else, he'd have been quietly released and nobody would really be any the wiser. On the other hand, we have US politicians and even the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, requesting in no uncertain terms that he should be left in prison. The families of the 270 victims of the attack are divided - in the US, the families are indignant at the thought of release, while in this country I guess British families have had enough experience of judicial failure in the cases of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four to doubt the safety of his conviction.

We're not going to know what is going to happen until 1pm, when Kenny MacAskill makes his announcement and he's certainly going to be doing that in the glare of the international spotlight. To my mind, the right announcement would be compassionate release, as I've said before . I know that puts me a bit out of step with good people in my Party and it's only fair to mention their opposition. I disagree with Jim on this, but I understand where he's coming from. Since I wrote that posting, I've discovered that compassionate release is the usual course of action for a terminal illness of less than 3 months' prognosis. To my mind that humane prinicple should be sacrosanct and not subject to political intervention. For that reason, I think what I said in my last posting about these sorts of decisions being made by an independent body, considering the medical evidence, and risk of danger to the public alone, was justified.

There shouldn't really be a political factor in this. We shouldn't buckle to pressure from the US, nor should the decision be portrayed as one of standing up to the US. If I had lost someone I loved, I may well be spitting mad at the thought of compassion being shown to their murderer, so the families deserve our thoughts and sympathy at what will be a difficult time for them.

Having said all that, boy have the SNP completely cocked this up. If he was in a room with a locked window and an open door, it seems like Kenny MacAskill would choose to go out the window. This is where I totally agree with Tavish Scott. MacAskill took his decision from the judicial to the political the moment he set foot in Greenock jail. No way should that ever have been allowed to happen. I can't imagine what on earth he was thinking. When do Ministers ever go and visit convicted murderers in jail? There was no need for that. All MacAskill needed to have was the report from Megrahi's doctors.

Not only that, but there was the leak to the BBC a week ago saying he was going to be released, then the dropping of his appeal which posed many more questions than it answered about whether a deal had been done with him. Why on earth has this process been as drawn out as it has been? Why has the Scottish Government not been able to manage the flow of information in a more competent manner?

I suspect there will need to be full scrutiny of the way in which this decision was made at some point so that we can understand the processes involved. We need to ascertain how he came to drop his appeal. He has always maintained his innocence, and, to be honest, when the trial was going on, I had my doubts as I listened to what was presented. Wardog outlined some of the issues in what I found to be a very helpful posting on the background to all of this.

I certainly hope that if MacAskill frees Megrahi today, we are not subjected to him receiving a hero's welcome in Libya. He's not a returning hero. He would be a convicted murderer being released on compassionate grounds to spend his dying weeks with his family.

This is a day when everyone in the world will be watching Scotland and its judicial system. I think that there are clear questions over the way in which this decision, however right I think it is, has been made - and these questions could have been avoided. The SNP's incompetence on this is not going to show Scotland at its best.

UPDATE: Scott has given a link to his excellent posting on this subject in the comments but it's worth putting here. Despite chatting on Twitter for months, I'd never actually got round to visiting his blog until just now. I was impressed with what I saw, so I've added him to my blogroll.

11 comments:

Scott @ loveandgarbage said...

I agree that macAskill messed it up, and I agree that Megrahi should be released. On the former see my post at http://loveandgarbage.livejournal.com/315121.html

subrosa said...

Good post Caron. Before I pick out one or two points, let me reiterate - Mr Megrahi's wife and children have been living just outside Glasgow for the past few years and seeing their husband/father very regularly. I have yet to discover who paid for the rather plush accommodation, but that's another matter altogether.

You say the minute Kenny MacAskill visited Greenock prison that his decision went from judicial to political. I disagree with that. Kenny MacAskill is not a judge, he's a politician so the decision was always going to be political in that sense.

Mr Megrahi must be receiving the very best healthcare treatment the UK can provide. I've never known anyone with aggressive prostate cancer to survive more than a few months. It's nearly a year since his diagnosis now and I hope other suffers of this hellish disease get the privilege of treatment from Mr Megrahi's doctors too.

I entirely agree with you about the handling of the whole issue - it has been pathetic and I'm still confused as to why information was allowed to be drip fed to the media.

The tragedy of all this is for the families. Now they don't stand a hope in hell's chance of knowing what actually happened even though some do have specific thoughts. My sympathies lie with them.

Caron said...

Thanks, Subrosa.

In a way, though, it doesn't really matter where his wife and family are living. I'd be arguing that a Scottish prisoner in the same situation should be released. It's about being with family 24/7 and not just for the monthly visits or whatever.

Re Kenny MacAskill, he as a Minister was taking a quasi judicial decision therefore should have acted in a quasi judicial fashion - if you read Scott's posting he's taken it further and asked how we would have felt if Jack Straw had visited a terminally ill Harold Shipman in prison. It just isn't the right thing to do.

I think he's lost the chance to show Scotland off as the compassionate, humane, principled, fair country we are by allowing the suggestion of deal to come into this.

Caron said...

I should also have said, I don't have much understanding of the pathology of Prostate Cancer, but I do know that tumours can change, or secondaries be more aggressive than the primary tumour. His doctors aren't going to get the report on his prognosis wrong - most especially not in this case.

Indy said...

I predict that he will dismiss the prisoner transfer application and grant the compassionate leave application. I think we can all predict that and probably most people think that is the correct decision.

As regards the visit to the prisoner - I think you are talking mince here Caron.

Agreed there is no requirement for a visit in connection with the compassionate leave application.

However the application under the prisoner transfer agreement is another matter. That application was made by the Libyan Government not by the prisoner. I therefore think it was necessary to establish 1) that the prisoner knew of it 2) that he understood the implications and 3) that he consented.

Scott made the point that Megrahi has a first class legal team representing him and therefore there was no requirement for kenny to meet with him. I disagree.

Who pays for that first class legal team? I suggest it is the Libyan Government. I am not in any way impugning the integrity of any of the lawyers incolved but who is their client - Megrahi or the Libyan Government? Supposing Megrahi did not agree with the decision to drop his appeal?

That is why I believe a personal visit was in order. It could be argued that MacAskill should have sent someone from his department and that the visit should not have been publicised. That would involve concealment however and if it was to emerge (as it probably would given the number of loose lips surrounding this case) would have looked much much worse than Kenny going himself.

Incidentally Subrosa Megrahi is not receiving the best medical treatment that can be provided. His condition has worsened and Greenock Prison cannot provide palliative care for someonme in the terminal stage of cancer - no prison can. They are not equipped for that, as terminally ill prisoners are generally released when they get to that stage.

Indy said...

Kenny's statement makes the visit issue clearer.

'Prior to ratification of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, it was scrutinised by the Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which Jack Straw, UK Secretary of State for Justice, gave a commitment that in cases where applications were not submitted personally by the prisoner, the prisoner must be given the opportunity to make representations. Mr Al-Megrahi had the opportunity to make representations, and he chose to do so in person. Therefore I was duty bound to receive his representations. I accordingly met him.'

The SG has provided background docs to the decision as well including the medical report.

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/legal/lockerbie

Scott @ loveandgarbage said...

So, 1. why was that not made clear when he visited the prison thereby putting an end to a series of questions on the topic. No statement was issued by the Justice department at the time.

2. Why did MacAskill have to go? he was acting in a quasi-judicial manner in another application? Sending an official, announcing in a statement why the official was being sent (and no lawyer would have questioned that) would have avoided any problem.

What we are left with is a positon where he acted in a quasi-judicial capacity in relation to the compassionate release - and met the applicant. This is till unsatisfactory and inept. And the failure to make the reason for his visit clear at the time smacks of post-rationalisation.

henry young said...

What, all we all of a sudden giving out FREE Lunches? Since when??? Under what premise? Did this guy learn his lesson? Who knows, right? Well I guess we’ll have to find out the hard way, maybe???

Dr Zhicago said...

"SHAME!", CRY GRIEVEING FAMILIES
AND THE RIGHTEOUS ECHO "SHAME!"
FOR WHAT THE "JUSTICE" MINISTER'S DONE
HAS BLACKENED SCOTLAND'S NAME

HOW DARE HE FREE A HEARTLESS DOG
WHO KILLED BY STEALTHY BOMB
VAPORIZED AND SCATTERED
THEY CANNA GO HOME, THEY'RE GONE.

THE CRIMES SEVERITY DON'T MATTER
THE "JUSTICE MINISTER" SAID
200 OR 2 MILLION
PISH TOSH THEY'RE JUST AS DEAD

BUT THE MURDERER HAS CANCER
AND ANY DAY MIGHT DIE
SO SEND HIM HOME TO HIS LOVED-ONES
SHOW MERCY DON'T ASK WHY

WHY FREE A HEINOUS SLAUGHTERER
OF INNOCENTS AND DREAMS
SO HE MAY DIE A PEACEFUL DEATH
AND NOT HEAR HUNDREDS SCREAMS

BY THE MINISTER OF "JUSTICE"
THE VICTIMS CRIES AREN'T HEARD
PUNISHMENT IS MEANINGLESS
ATONEMENT JUST A WORD

NO JUSTICE HERE FOR LOCKERBIE
FOR THOSE WHO STILL CAN'T SLEEP
FOR FATHERS, SONS AND DAUGHTERS
FOR MOTHERS WHO STILL WEEP

NO JUSTICE HERE FOR THOUSANDS
WHOSE LIVES FOREVER CHANGE
WHEN EVIL TERROR TRIUMPHS
AND JUSTICE IS DERANGED

BURNS AND BRUCE AND WALLACE
ARE BURDENED NOW WITH SHAME
FOR LITTLE KENNY MACASKILL
HAS BLACKENED SCOTLAND'S NAME

Thomas Osbourne Aug. 21/09

CrazyDaisy said...

Good to see Minged Campbell sound like a grupy old fart pretending that it's no time for amateurs on the English Broadcasting Company.

The fact is the Lib Dems have never made any real political decisions in their entire collective careers, so clearly they're the amateurs if logic prevails!

Oops! Forgot they decided to oust Kennedy as head of the party, what did they get? Someone who was and is so far out of touch he hasn't seen his winkie in years.

Thanks Ming for being a twisted rancid buffoon he clearly is past his sell by date - can anyone else smell cabbage and wee?

Crazy D

Lisa said...

Even though he is dying,he should not be trusted and he should still be monitored.

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