Hague attacks Scottish justice system

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by a Newsnet reporter

Conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday expressed his “outrage” at the news that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi had appeared at a pro-Gaddafi rally in Libya, and used the occasion to launch another attack on the independence of the Scottish legal and justice system, stating that the release was “a great mistake”.

Looking frail and in a wheelchair, al-Megrahi appeared amongst a group of Gaddafi supporters at a rally in Tripoli, wearing a face mask to guard against infection.  The rally was covered live on state television.  Al-Megrahi did not address the rally, but was introduced by a TV presenter who described al-Megrahi’s conviction as a “conspiracy”.  This was al-Megrahi’s first public appearance in the 22 months since he was returned to Libya.

Speaking to reporters yesterday at a press conference to announce the official recognition by the UK government of the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, Mr Hague said: “The Prime Minister and I, when we were in opposition, both strongly disagreed with that decision by Scottish ministers.

“We disagreed with what has subsequently been revealed about the facilitation by the previous Labour government at Westminster of moves towards the release of al-Megrahi.”

He added: “This was absolutely the wrong thing to do.  It shows the medical advice it was based on was pretty much worthless …  It has always been our view that this [the release] was a mistake and this confirms that.”

The Scottish Government responded to Mr Hague’s attack by questioning his ability to make medical decisions and insisting that the Scottish Government had acted strictly in accordance with Scots Law.  The independence of Scots Law is guaranteed by the Treaty of Union of 1707.  

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said:

“Al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds based on the recommendations of the Parole Board, the prison governor and the medical report of the Scottish Prison Service’s most senior health professional.”

“This material is all in the public domain – including the medical report – and it all vindicates the Scottish Government’s position.

“Indeed, it is clear that only the Scottish Government played with a straight bat on this matter, while the UK Government said one thing in public and another in private.

“The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee examined all relevant aspects of this issue, and concluded that the decision was taken ‘in good faith’.

“Instead of criticising a senior health professional, Mr Hague should understand that the medical advice to the Justice Secretary came from Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Health and Care of the Scottish Prison Service, a professional of impeccable integrity.”

Mr Hague’s comments raise the question of whether the current Conservative Lib-Dem Coalition Government would attempt to over-rule the Scottish Government on a matter relating to Scots Law and Scottish justice.