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Mr Al-Megrahi - Q&A relating to the Justice Secretary's decision

Who considers applications for compassionate release?

It is the responsibility of the Scottish Government's Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill to consider all applications that meet the criteria for compassionate release. Applications which do not meet the eligibility criteria are refused by officials at an earlier stage of the process.

How many appeals does the Scottish Government receive for such release?

Scottish Ministers have the power to release prisoners on licence on compassionate grounds under Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993. Since 1993, 62 applications have been made for compassionate release. 23 have been refused and 39 granted.

All applications submitted for Ministerial consideration were approved. Applications which did not meet the eligibility criteria were refused by officials at an earlier stage of the process.

Why did the Justice Secretary come to this decision?

There are no easy answers, there is no perfect solution to this decision.

The Justice Secretary has had to make a decision on the basis of the information available and the circumstances we are now in. The medical advice provided clearly states Mr Al-Megrahi is likely die within three months.

Why not consider Prisoner Transfer Arrangement?

For the reasons see the Justice Secretary's statement.

The Justice Secretary considered all of the criteria in the PTA, and the representations made.

The most difficult issue was the question of assurances that may or may not have been given pre-trial as to where any sentences would be served. This was raised in many of the representations received. The Scottish Government was, of course, not a party to any such agreements, and the Justice Secretary has been forced to rely on opinions and material principally from the US and UK Governments.

The UK Government has stated that they do not see any international law barrier to transfer.

The US Attorney General, who was depute Attorney General at the time of the pre-trial negotiations, gave a very clear explanation of the US Government's understanding. Lord Boyd, who was the Lord Advocate at the time of the trial has also written to Mr MacAskill setting out his understanding.

The Justice Secretary is not in a position to say definitively what may have been agreed, but it appears to him that the American families and Government had, or were led to believe they had, a legitimate expectation that there would be no prisoner transfer.

Who did you take representations from when reaching this decision?

As part of his consideration, the Justice Secretary received numerous representations. He also spoke with:

  • The US Attorney General
  • The US Secretary of State
  • The Libyan Government
  • UK families of victims
  • US families of victims
  • Families from Lockerbie
  • Mr Al-Megrahi
Why did the Justice Secretary meet Mr Al-Megrahi?

Prior to ratification of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement at Westminster, the UK Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, gave a commitment that in cases where applications were not submitted personally by the prisoner, the prisoner must be given the opportunity to make representations.

Therefore Mr Al-Megrahi had the opportunity to make representations, and he chose to do so in person.

What role did the rest of Cabinet/First Minister play in any decision making?

The Justice Secretary made these decisions. No other Minister has been involved.

How can you release/transfer someone convicted of so heinous an offence?

There is no basis under either application to exclude Mr Al-Megrahi based solely on his offence. Mr Al-Megrahi is dying of prostate cancer. Clinical advice is that death is now likely within the three month period. He is being released on compassionate grounds and compassionate grounds alone.

Does the Justice Secretary think this decision is fair on the families who lost loved ones in the biggest terror attack in the UK? Where is his compassion for them?

Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forgive, let alone forget. Mr MacAskill knows that their pain runs deeps and the scars will remain forever. He is sorry for any additional grief or pain caused by this process.

Is this not just sending a signal to terrorist organisations that if they carry out another attack on Scotland, they can expect to be treated with leniency and compassion if they are ever caught?

Mr Al-Megrahi was prosecuted and convicted of murder. He was given a life sentence, with a punishment part of 27 years. Such an appalling crime should receive a severe sentence.

Mr Al-Megrahi is dying of prostate cancer. Clinical advice is that death is now likely within the three month period.

In his statement, Justice Secretary Mr MacAskill said: "Mr Al-Megrahi now faces sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal: final and irrevocable. He is going to die.

"Mr Al-Megrahi did not show his victims comfort or compassion. But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days."

Can this decision be legally challenged?

As with any decisions by a public authority where there is no appeal system, it could potentially be challenged through the Courts by judicial review.

Will the Scottish Government have a public inquiry as requested now that Mr Al-Megrahi's appeal has been dropped?

This is a matter of global concern, and international in its nature. The questions to be asked and answered are beyond the jurisdiction of Scots and the restricted remit of the Scottish Government

If a further inquiry were to be felt appropriate then it should be initiated by those with the required power and authority. The Scottish Government would be happy to fully co-operate in that.