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Parliamentary Report 1st – 5th February 2010

2010 February 9
by Mary Munro

Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body - 2011

The Justice Committee published its report into the Government’s decision to release Abdelbaset al Megrahi, which was largely critical of the handling of the affair, although it was split along party lines. In the Chamber there were questions about police use of Tasers, and male victims of domestic abuse.

The Justice Committee

The Committee held the meeting in private on Tuesday, in order to complete their reports into the inquiry into the decision on Abdelbaset al Megrahi (see below). The minutes of the meeting reveal that the Committee discussed the leaks of their report which had appeared in the press over the previous week. All members of the committee and the clerking team claiming no responsibility for the leaks, and the committee’s convener, Bill Aitken, decided to refer the issue to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for investigation.

The Justice Committee’s report into the Government’s decision to release Abdelbaset al Megrahi

On Friday the committee published their inquiry into the Government’s decision to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. The committee took evidence from the Justice Secretary and his officials as part of this inquiry and they also received written information from the US and UK governments. The remit of the inquiry was reserved to asking questions about the processes that were followed in making the decision, and explicitly avoided answering whether it was the correct decision or not.

The report was overall critical of the Government’s handling of the matter. However, the key findings in the report as well as the concluding recommendation were split along party lines (with the 5 Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem members critical of the Government and the 3 SNP members supportive). The key points of the report are as follows:

• 5 members believed that the Prisoner Transfer Application (PTA) should not have been considered at all by the Government on the grounds that there were legal proceedings outstanding at the time of its application (which went against one of the conditions of transfer). However, the 3 SNP members disagreed, saying that these reasons meant the transfer could not be granted, but not that it should not be considered in the first place.

• 5 members of the committee believed it was inappropriate for the Secretary to meet with Mr al–Megrahi in prison arguing that this may create an inappropriate precedent which could be relied on by other prisoners in the future. The 3 SNP members however thought that this visit was appropriate and they disagreed that this would create a precedent because this was such a unique case. They also disagreed that the Secretary’s visit put any pressure on the prisoner (even if not stated explicitly) to drop his appeal so that the PTA could be considered.

• The Committee was also divided about the Government’s interpretation of the criteria for compassionate release, with the Labour and Liberal Democrat members saying that he failed to take the victim’s into account when making his decision, and the SNP members arguing that the Government followed the protocols for eligibility for conditional release which were not conditional on the feelings of the victims.

• The Committee was also split on whether a second medical opinion on the prisoners’ prognosis should have been sought, with the Conservative and Labour members arguing that a second opinion should have been sought and the SNP arguing that the approach taken was appropriate and also complied with precedent and the documented procedures.

• Divided along the same party lines, five members of the committee thought that much greater consideration should have been given to the possibility of release in Scotland rather than back to Libya, and the 3 SNP members thought that this would be inappropriate and that the Secretary had explained his position on this matter adequately.

• Five members thought that the decision to release should have been made to the Parliament rather than to an international news conference, and the 3 members argued that the decisions were taken during the Parliamentary summer recess and so this would not have been possible.

• The three Labour members also argued that the Government should have sought written assurances from the Libyan Government about his reception upon arrival back in Tripoli, while the 3 SNP members argued that there was no reason to assume that a written assurance would be more binding than an oral one.

Although the Committee were unable to provide a decisive opinion on the Government’s handling of the affair, their inquiry did shed light onto the way that the decision was taken. To that extent at least, it was able to provide some answers.

You can read the whole report on the Justice Committee’s Inquiry into the decision on Abdelbaset al-Megrahi website and see also the press in the CJScotland Newsblog.

The Chamber

Questions

Male victims of domestic abuse

Nigel Don (SNP) asked a question about an issue which the Public Petitions Committee recently considered, namely that of male victims of domestic abuse. The Minister for Housing and Communities, Alex Neil, answered on behalf of the Government, and he said that male victims can access the same services as female victims of domestic abuse, and that the Government were considering whether to launch a dedicated helpline support for male victims but that he would release more information on these subjects when discussions had been concluded. There then followed supplementary questions which argued that male victims are often excluded from help because services that offer this sort of support are often women’s charities, and another which argued that although domestic abuse can victimise men, it is predominantly women who are victimised by men in this crime.

You can read this question in the Official Report

Pilot police use of Tasers

Tavish Scott (LD) used his question to the First Minister to ask about the recent announcement by Strathclyde Police that they will be running a six month pilot allowing patrolling officers in the Rutherglen area and Glasgow city centre to carry Taser stun guns. Mr Scott wanted to know to what extent the Government had been involved in discussions with Strathclyde police over this decision, and whether they had changed their initial policy stance which said that only specially trained firearm officers could use these stun guns. He argued that when they had been trialled in England, they were used 600 times in the first year, including 34 times on children, and he said that this was a slippery slope that could result in tasers being used throughout Scotland.

The First Minister replied that the officers who will be involved in the pilot will all be specially trained to the same degree as officers who use tasers at present, and that the purpose of the pilot was to see whether this approach had merits or not before possibly rolling it out further. He also said that it was important that the police be able to them to defend themselves appropriately, but that this decision was ultimately an operational matter for the chief constable of Strathclyde to make.

You can read this question in the Official Report and you can also read the press in the CJScotland Newsblog.

Written Questions

The fall out from the BBC programme on buckfast continued, with a number of questions about caffeinated alcohol drinks another question about the links between caffeine and crime and about the number of off-licenses who have sold alcohol to under 18s, and about the geographic location of some of the serious and organised crime gangs throughout Scotland. There were a number of questions about the decision to release Mr Al–Megrahi, about domestic violence and short prison sentences, about prosecutions for use of mobile phone when driving, and finally, about the number of social workers in prisons.

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