Thursday, 20 August 2009

Compassion, mercy and justice

Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill MSP has announced that he has rejected Libya's application for a prisoner transfer for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi and that he has approved the request from Mr Megrahi for release on compassionate grounds. As usual, there are people of small stature who made wild claims without examining the evidence.

Iain Gray said that Labour in government would show no compassion, no mercy, that if he were First Minister "Megrahi would not be going back to Libya". I hope he takes the time to think again and withdraws this statement, it's as unseemly as David Cameron's comments that "This man was convicted of murdering 270 people, he showed no compassion to them". David Cameron not allowing his Scottish party to respond was noted.

Richard Baker was one of those who foolishly questioned Kenny's decision to visit Megrahi in prison. He would have been better to have consulted his own party colleague, Jack Straw, whose actions meant that Kenny's duty was clear - he had to visit Megrahi. This is from Kenny's statement:
Prior to ratification of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, it was scrutinised by the Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which Jack Straw, UK Secretary of State for Justice, 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. Mr Al-Megrahi had the opportunity to make representations, and he chose to do so in person. Therefore I was duty bound to receive his representations. I accordingly met him.

As Brian Taylor pointed out, it was a strong performance from Kenny MacAskill, and one which was directed at multiple audiences. He outlined the compassion he was showing to Megrahi:
Mr Al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.
But, that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his
final days.
Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.

He also noted the burden of grief carried by the bereaved:
Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against our people and those from many other lands. The pain and suffering will remain forever. Some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade. Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive. Their pain runs deep and the wounds remain.

This was no easy decision to make but the decency and humanity of Kenny MacAskill shone through today when lesser politicians were taking cheap shots in the hope of getting their names in the papers and were talking the Scottish justice system down in the process. Our Justice Secretary raised Scotland today. Judge our society by the way we treat the weakest members of it, by the way we welcome those in need, and by the way we treat those who have wronged us. Judge us by the way we act as a society and, now, know that compassion has a place at the heart of justice in Scotland, that justice here is tempered with mercy. Release on compassionate grounds is not unknown in Scottish justice - it's part of the standard practice - but when the man who has been found guilty of committing such a terrible crime in our land can find mercy at the hands of our justice system we can think the system worthy of the name.

Others agree, as well:
"We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not chose mercy?
"This was not about whether one man was guilty or innocent. Nor is it about whether he had a right to mercy but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful.

Now there is the news that the Presiding Officer will recall Parliament on Monday,a s he had earlier indicated - a chance, perhaps, for MSPs to debate this issue with some degree of gravitas?


henry young said...

What, all we all of a sudden giving out FREE Lunches? Since when??? Under what premise? Did this guy learn his lesson? Who knows, right? Well I guess we’ll have to find out the hard way, maybe???

Cruachan said...

"Scotland the Brave" sometimes has an artificial, hollow ring and can be put alongside the tartan and shortbread and tourist attractions, but yesterday was the real thing.

This was true Government (with Kenny MacAskill acting in a quasi-judicial role) based on principles of justice and compassion. It was a real moment of truth for the Scottish Government.

I don't pretend to know whether the original conviction of Al Megrahi was the right decision, but a Scottish Court, (sitting on Dutch soil) made a judgement based on the evidence and the law. There continues to be debate about Al-Megrahi's guilt or otherwise and a number of the relatives of the Scottish victims at Lockerbie seem to be convinced that the real plotters and perpetrators of the outrage have never been brought to justice. Many more of the American victims' families are equally convinced of his guilt and remain angry and sometimes vengeful. However, Al Megrahi - a convicted mass murderer - is a dying man.

Seen through the eyes of the victims' families, all they ever wanted was to see their own loved ones walking down the stairs of a plane after that fateful journey. I did have mixed feeling watching the perhaps inevitable celebrations at Tripoli Airport and the strange site of St Andrew flags being waved, but it was a good day.

Over and above the rights and wrongs of the case itself, what struck me most about yesterday's events was that this was a glimpse at the future. Scotland taking responsibility for its own affairs and the consequences for its actions.
Despite heavy pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, in the full glare of the world's media spotlight, Kenny MacAskill made a brave decision yesterday and his clear and dignified statement set out the case convincingly. Scotland standing tall saying this is us, this is what we believe, this is what we stand for.

The future is within our grasp.

Ron Wilson said...

No doubt the American's will see us as haggis eating surrender monkeys.

Lincoln County said...

What a joke. Now the scottish can take their place in the world community next to their big sister France.

Why don't you America-hating twats go all the way! Tell us Americans what you really think about us. Tell us how you hate us for saving you in WWII. Tell us how it's all our fault - from Nazis to radical Muslims - all caused by the Americans!

An independent Scotland - how insignificant. Just another corrupt and impotent european nation. Bring back your dead language while your at it. St. Andrew is smiling up at you from Hell while he takes it up his ass from Mohomed.

Dark Lochnagar said...

An excellent post Calum. The question to be asked is if you were a young Palestinian youth thinking about becoming a martyr what would make you mind up, Guantanamo Bay or mercy being shown by a western power towards a convicted terrorist?