Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Megrahi release saga rumbles on ...

I'm not going to rehash the arguments for or against releasing Megrahi last year, a decision taken by the Justice Secretary in the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government'), Mr Kenny MacAskill MSP; I thought then and think still that the decision was both wrong and foolish. My articles written at the time on the matter give my detailed view of the matter:

- Scotland sends a convicted murderer home "to die" (20AUG2009)
- Bill's not popular in some quarters locally it seems (22AUG2009)
- Majority 'oppose' Megrahi release (28AUG2009)
- My absolutely final word on the al-Megrahi release saga (01SEP2009)

Now that final article linked to above, written on 1st September last year, might be thought to be contradicted by this present article, but in fact it is not because this article is on a whole other aspect of this saga, relating to judicial and constitutional territoriality. However, before continuing this article I think it useful to quote the final two sentences from my last article above:

"Whatever we may think of the decision by Mr MacAskill, it was made in good faith I have no doubt (if in my view for misguided reasons), but it is done and cannot be reversed. We must now live with the consequences, whatever they are."

At the time of the release the US authorities expressed their view opposing the release very vociferously, but as I wrote in the first article linked to above "We have our legal system and they have their's and they have done many things in recent years which have been found by many in this country to be revolting or merely unjust in recent years, and precious little notice have they taken of the views and sensibilities of what is supposed to be their closest ally in the world."

In recent weeks a US Senate hearing has been taking place into the oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico involving oil company BP, a company with strong British links historically, even though it is today a truly multinational conglomerate with a large proportion of its shareholding outside the UK, with US shareholders holding a very significant stake in the company. It has been suggested by some US Senators that there may be a connection between the release of Megrahi and a deal agreed with the Libyan authorities by BP. Now these US Senators have 'invited' Mr MacAskill and the Scottish Prison Service's medical chief Dr Andrew Fraser to travel to Washington to give evidence before the US Senate hearing. The Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') has declined this 'invitation'. Also invited are Mr Jack Straw MP, former UK Justice Secretary and Mr Tony Hayward, BP chief executive, neither of whom have yet announced a decision on this matter. It will be recalled that Mr Hayward recently gave evidence before the US Senate in connection with the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill.

My view is very strongly that no official of the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') should attend the US Senate hearing. I am no friend of the current ruling political party in Scotland, the SNP, nor do I care for the First Minister, Mr Alex Salmond MP MSP, but I watched him being interviewed earlier today on BBC News on the matter and have to say I agree completely with his analysis, which followed very closely the statement issued by a spokesperson on behalf of his administration:

"Since the Lockerbie atrocity in 1988, all matters regarding the investigation, prosecution and compassionate release decision have been conducted according to the jurisdiction and laws of Scotland.

"Clearly, the Senate Committee has responsibility to scrutinise decisions taken within the US system, and Scottish ministers and public officials are accountable within the Scottish Parliament system. That is the constitutional basis of our democracies.

"The Scottish Parliament's justice committee has already undertaken a full inquiry into the decision on compassionate release, and the Westminster Scottish affairs committee has also examined the issue in terms of the formal inter-governmental relations that exist within the UK. That is right and proper."

The US is a close ally of the UK (which includes Scotland), but the two are completely separate countries and it would seem to me totally invidious, on principle, for any official of a UK government or a devolved part of the UK such as Scotland, to accept or imply acceptance of the jurisdiction of a foreign country. I cannot imagine any official of the US Federal Government or one of the US States agreeing to give evidence before a Parliamentary Committee in the UK, nor would it be correct for them to accept such an obligation - the furore that that would arise in the US amongst the public there were such testimony to be offered by any US public official before the parliament of a foreign country, even of a close ally such as the UK, would be intense and entirely justified.

The Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') has stated its willingness to supply further written evidence to the US Senate and that is as much as the US Senate can expect, indeed my view is that even this is too much. I may disagree strongly with the decision taken by Mr MacAskill, but it is clear that he took that decision with due regard to Scots Law; that is the end of the matter so far as I am concerned.

Finally, the comments made by Labour's Holyrood justice spokesman Richard Baker, to the effect that it was "perfectly legitimate" for US senators to ask Mr MacAskill to travel to Washington and answer questions are in my view completely wrong-headed and betray a complete lack of understanding of the constitutional issues involved, specifically relating to the sovereignty of the UK; I have no love for the SNP, but it is immensely pleasing that the Labour Party is no longer in power in either Scotland or Westminster if this is the care and attention they give to this country's status as an independent country; of course Labour is the political party that when in government agreed the unequal US/UK Extradition Treaty 2003 with the US, so they have 'form' in their dereliction of national duty.

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