Events force unusual preface to Criminal Cases report

29/03/2012

“Very unusual circumstances,” surrounding the Justice Committee’s consideration of the Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill, has meant the committee has prefaced its Stage 1 report published today with an explanation regarding part 2 of the Bill.

The Bill covers two distinct issues and the committee gave qualified agreement to the general principles of both parts of the Bill.

In part 1, the committee supported the aim of addressing the anomaly identified in the case of Petch and Foye where a life prisoner is likely to have a parole hearing earlier than a non-life prisoner sentenced for a similar crime.

The committee also agreed to part 2 of the Bill concerning the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and a change to enable the SCCRC to decide whether to disclose information about cases it has referred to the High Court, where the subsequent appeal has been abandoned.

Committee Convener Christine Grahame MSP said: “Due to the hugely significant development of the online publication by a Scottish newspaper on Sunday regarding a statement of reasons in the Megrahi case, our analysis and commentary in Part 2 of the Bill has been largely superseded.

“However, we also believe it is important to make public our consideration on the evidence we heard and it is worth underlining that whatever the main intentions of Part 2 in relation to the Megrahi case, the Bill is drafted in general terms and may still be relied upon in future cases.”

“We would also like to make it clear that we are in principle firmly on the side of openness and transparency in relation to the Megrahi statement of reasons and have always wished to see it published in as complete a state as legally possible.”

The report raised a number of other issues including:

  • The committee supports there being as much openness as possible in relation to abandoned appeals subject to there being a substantial public interest
  • Greater clarity is needed in sentencing so that victims and witnesses understand what has happened
  • The committee noted that a law passed in 2007 Custodial Sentencing and Weapons (Scotland) Act with the aim of making sentencing clearer has not been brought into force yet and does not have a commencement date.

Background

The Bill deals with two distinct issues.

Part 1 amends the rules about the punishment part of a non-mandatory life sentences imposed in criminal cases. This arose from the March 2011 Appeals court judgement, Petch and Foyne v HM Advocate. This concerned the time that Morris Petch and Robert Foye must serve in prison before they become eligible to apply for parole.

Part 2 of the Bill amends Part XA of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. This is to set out a procedure to allow the disclosure of information obtained by the Scottish Criminal cases Review Commission (SCCRC) in circumstances where an appeal against conviction has been abandoned. Though the reforms in part 2 are for general application, the Bill makes clear it is in response to the Megrahi case.