Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi is free. Causing a bit of a controversy, that. The one man convicted of Britain’s worse terrorist incident, the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, has been freed on compassionate grounds by the Scottish authorities. And pretty much everybody is complaining about it.
I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging on political issues in the last year or so. There have been many significant political events and controversies over the last twelve months, but I’ve bit my tongue and held my silence. Perhaps I should do that in this case too, or perhaps I’m ready to reengage with my former, ranting, self. Who knows; but I’m diving in here…
As far as I can work it out, the political decision was based on a recommendation by the judicial authorities, by the court and the parole board. There were also some representations from the police about the cost of necessary policing, were Megrahi released into Scotland instead of to Libya. The controversy? The controversy seems to be that the Scottish Justice secretary followed the advice given, and went with the recommendations of the parole board, and granted a compassionate release, because Megrahi is dying of cancer.
The Americans, especially, are rather pissed off. This tends to happen, in cases like this. As far as I can work out, America has a different understanding of “justice” than we do. In that they seem to replace the word with “vengeance” in most cases.
As I’ve said in the past, vengeance and justice are not the same things. It is not legitimate to kill terrorists, because they have killed people. It is not legitimate to deny compassion to a prisoner that we believe did not give compassion to others. The point of the law is to remove the natural desire for retribution, by providing a fair, impartial judgement and handing down a statutory sentence. It is fair because it is impartial and it is impersonal. The decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and the feelings of the victims, or of the general public, are essentially irrelevant.
If a public minister, such as Kenny MacAskill, changes an impartial decision of justice because of the emotive feelings of the general public (or the equally emotive desires of a foreign government) it fundamentally changes the nature of the justice system. It can’t happen. If it did happen, it would be very, very wrong.
Of course we are appalled by the Lockerbie bombing. Of course we wish the perpetrator brought to justice. We may even feel, very naturally and understandably, a wish for some form of vengeance.
Questions over Megrahi’s guilt aside, there has been justice here: there has been a trial, a conviction and a sentence, a large part of which has been served. Perhaps Megrahi should have died in prison, but compassionate release, on medical grounds, is a right afforded to every prisoner under Scottish law, provided they meet the relevant conditions. Obviously, Megrahi did. To not grant him the release that is his by right, would be fundamentally unjust.
So, the American’s can go whine. I don’t care. Perhaps MacAskill can buy Clinton a dictionary, and helpfully flag the word Justice for her. It is the UK politicians I am appalled by, who seem to have decided, almost unanimously, that the opinions of the Sun and the Daily Mail are more important than actual justice. To them, I have two words: