Justice Committee reports on Al-Megrahi decision

05.02.2010

The process followed by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill MSP, in making the decision that led to the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, is examined in a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.

The report explains the background to the committee’s short inquiry and then sets out the different views held by members of the committee on each main aspect of the decision-making process.

In the final section of the report, the committee gives its conclusions, most of which were agreed to on a majority basis, after a series of divisions at this week’s committee meeting.

These conclusions cover such issues as:

  • Mr MacAskill’s meeting with Mr al-Megrahi in Greenock prison
  • the handling of the application by Libya under the prisoner-transfer agreement
  • the question of whether compassionate release to an address in Scotland was given sufficient consideration as an option
  • whether sufficient account was taken of the views of victims’ families.

Committee Convener Bill Aitken MSP said: “This has been an unusual exercise for the Justice Committee, and it is fair to say that it has been quite a divisive one.

"Three members of the committee opposed the decision to undertake the inquiry in the first place, and it was not possible to agree on most of the conclusions without a vote. However, there were some points on which we could all agree, including the need for greater clarity about the status of the Scottish Prison Service guidance that sets out the criteria for compassionate release.

"I believe this is a useful report that sets out fairly the arguments on all the main issues that arose in the inquiry.

"It will now be for all MSPs and others with an interest in this issue to read the report and make up their own minds.”

Background

The Cabinet Secretary’s decision was announced on 20 August 2009. It referred both to an application by Libya for transfer under the prisoner-transfer agreement (PTA) and to an application by Mr al-Megrahi for compassionate release. Mr MacAskill’s decision was to refuse the PTA application but grant the compassionate-release application.

The committee’s inquiry was prompted by a letter from Labour leader Iain Gray MSP. The remit for the inquiry made clear that it would not consider the merits of the decision itself, but would instead examine the process followed by the Scottish Government in considering the two applications.

The remit also excluded consideration of the Lockerbie bombing, the trial of Mr al-Megrahi and subsequent appeals, and the background to and content of the PTA.

Oral evidence from Mr MacAskill and officials was taken on 1 December 2009.