Yesterday afternoon the Crown Office issued the following press release, which included a letter from the Lord Advocate to the SCCRC. The Crown Office knows more than it is saying and, in my view, this is a panic measure.
SCCRC WILL NOT BE PROSECUTED FOR PUBLISHING MEGRAHI STATEMENT OF REASONS
The Crown Office today confirmed that no current member or employee of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) would be prosecuted if its Statement of Reasons in the case of Abdelbaset al Megrahi is formally published.
Whilst it is currently an offence for the Commission to disclose information obtained in its investigations, the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, considers it would not be in the public interest to prosecute, given the selective publication of the Statement of Reasons in the media.
The Crown Office has today written to the SCCRC to clarify the position.
A Crown Office spokesperson said: “The Crown has repeatedly made it clear that it has no objection in principle to the publication of the SCCRC Statement of Reasons in the Megrahi case.
“Following the recent selective and misleading reporting of the Statement of Reasons – which would have been properly argued in Court had Megrahi not chosen to abandon his second appeal – the Lord Advocate wishes to ensure that there are no perceived barriers to publication, beyond the proper legal requirements which the Commission must take into account in publishing the document.
“Accordingly, the Lord Advocate has today confirmed that it would not be in the public interest for current members and employees of the Commission to be prosecuted in terms of the offence of disclosure in section 194J of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 in relation to any official publication of the Statement of Reasons.”
Notes to Editors:
1. The full text of the Lord Advocate’s letter to the SCCRC is at the foot of this news release.
2. Section 194J of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act makes it an offence for current or former employees or members of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to disclose information obtained in the exercise of its function.
3. The decision of the Lord Advocate does not apply to any other legal considerations which the Commission requires to take into account, such as data protection or the convention rights of individuals identified in the Statement of Reasons.
4. The Crown is bound by the confidentiality which attaches to the Statement of Reasons and are therefore also prevented from fully correcting the misleading reporting regarding the Crown and others.
5. A decision of the SCCRC to refer a conviction to the Appeal Court does not mean that there has been a miscarriage of justice. Only the Appeal Court can declare if there is has been a miscarriage of justice and quash a conviction.
6. In the Megrahi case, the Commission was asked to look at more than 40 possible grounds for a referral to the Appeal Court. The Commission rejected the vast majority of these and referred the case to the Appeal Court on six grounds, many of which were inter-related. Megrahi chose to abandon this ongoing appeal when he did not require to do so for release on compassionate grounds.
7. In preparing for Megrahi’s second appeal, the Crown had considered all the information in the Statement of Reasons and had every confidence in successfully defending the conviction in the Appeal Court for a second time.
8. Full text of the letter from the Lord Advocate to Mr Gerry Sinclair, Chief Executive, Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission:
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi Publication of the Statement of Reasons
I refer to your recent meeting with my officials at which you discussed once more publication of the Commission’s Statement of Reasons in this case.
It was agreed that the Crown would undertake a further review of the Statement of Reasons to ensure that there was nothing contained within the document which would affect the ongoing criminal investigating if disclosed. I can confirm that we have concluded that further review and have not identified any issues which would hinder publication by the Commission.
As you are aware, the Crown has made it clear on a number of occasions that it supports the publication of the Statement of Reasons by the Commission, albeit we also appreciate that there are some legal restrictions which the Commission must consider, some of which the Bill is intended to facilitate, before publication can take place.
I appreciate that you are aware that as officers of the court, we take our responsibility to protect the confidentiality of the information very seriously.
You will also be aware of the recent selective and misleading publication of extracts from the Statement of Reasons out of context in the media. Clearly the Crown was not responsible for the release of any of that information. This highly unsatisfactory situation is not sustainable.
It has resulted in public criticism of a number of named individuals who have not seen the Statement of Reasons and therefore cannot draw on material that may be found elsewhere in the full document which provides balance to the selections which have been taken out of context.
We are bound by the confidentiality which attaches to the document and are therefore also prevented from fully correcting the misleading reporting regarding the Crown and others.
We regard it as inappropriate for any party other than the Commission to publish the Statement of Reasons. We would therefore urge the Commission to conclude its consideration of publication, in connection with the Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill, as quickly possible.
As you know we have facilitated your efforts in this direction by responding positively and promptly to all that you have requested from us by way of assistance in removing any perceived barriers to publication.
Further in this connection, we have of course considered the general offence of disclosure in section 194J of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 which applies to current and former employees and members of the commission. We recognise that the Bill which is before the Scottish Parliament provides an additional exception from the prohibition against disclosure in section 194J.
In the exceptional circumstances of this case and in recognition that the public interest is not served by selective and misleading reporting of the Statement of Reasons, we would wish to ensure that it can be made clear that the offence in section 194J is not perceived as a barrier to publication. Accordingly I am providing this written verification to you of the fact that it would not be in the public interest for any current member or employee of the Commission to be prosecuted in terms of section 194J of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 in connection with any official publication of the Statement of Reasons. For the avoidance of any doubt, this decision does not apply to the appendices or any of the source material held by the Commission.