28 August: Charon after possibly too many glasses

Fortunately, the debate on the release of Al-Megrahi has been thoughtful, incisive and fascinating – whatever view you take on the decision by the Scottish Justice Minister to release Al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. I have learned a great deal from the debate.  Inspired by Carl Gardner’s measured post (which I still agree with) I wrote what I hope was a measured piece, acknowledging my lack of knowledge of the Scottish Judicial process.  Since writing that blog post  I have had the pleasure of exchanging views with the author of LoveandGarbage, Advoc_8 (see the comments section in my original blog post) – Scottish lawyers –  and I have read the incisive views of Jonathan Mitchell QC, Professor Hector MacQueen and many others who commented on blog posts.

I came across this statement by Allymax on Ian Hamilton QC’s blog – make of it what you will. It is in the comments section and you will need to scroll down in the comments to find it.

See also – an astonishing situation where one of our leading QCs seems to have got it very wrong – Geoffrey Roberston QC is brought to account by Loveandgarbage and others – click here

OK… I do the occasional parody – but usually because I wish to express a view in a different way….. Do have a look at Allymax – the statement has been sent to every MSP!

Oh… and in case Allymax or others raise the matter… I am proud to be a Scot – I just happen to like people from all parts of the United Kingdom….and from ….many other parts of the world!  It comes with a forward looking view and a degree of optimism 🙂

10 thoughts on “28 August: Charon after possibly too many glasses

  1. At the risk of upsetting a lot of people (and I admit, this is a hobby of mine) I think the Scottish government were absolutely right to do what they did.

    Al-Megrahi is going to die. Soon. He is not being let out of jail to have a belated Summer holiday or enjoy an ice cream off the Brighton coast. Riddled with a terminal disease, one could argue that it is a fitting end for a man who was convicted of such an atrocious crime, if indeed he committed it.

    The compassion the Scottish Government have shown is not only admirable but is something that is sorely missing from both national and international politics. I do not believe for one moment that the Scottish Minister thinks this man deserves an easy ride or is somehow pardoned for his crimes. I believe that in the grand tradition of compassion and humanity the decision was made to send a message to parts of the world that currently the West cannot reach with its strident bully boy tac tics and its unswerving, dogged democratic didactic – the message was perhaps as simple as “We understand everybody deserves to be treated with compassion”, but it’s arguably the most powerful message any nation could send to that part of the world.

    This was something that our own judicial system once believed in. But in a harsh and unforgiving world where history repeats itself and where West battles Middle East, the kindnesses of the human condition are considered luxuries, and not necessities which I truly believe they are.

    Would I feel the same way if I had lost a loved one at the hands of such a monster? Like Dr Swire, who backed the decision, God, I hope so.

  2. Natasha – I would not disagree with you on the humanity of your position… but I do not think this decision was right….

    The concept of compassion in Scots (and, indeed, in any legal system is a good one when used sparingly. I wonder if there are any prisoners in Scotland who happen not to be guilty of such an atrocity but who are guilty of other serious crimes (I hear what you and others say about the guilt of Al-Megrahi) who have not enjoyed such compassionate release.?

    As ever… I am happy to be advised and informed by those who practice or teach Scots law – for I do not.

    On this question – the mainstream media and the blogs have not been that informative.

  3. I understand and I think that is an issue in and of itself (the display of compassion to other equally ‘ranked’ prisoners) but perhaps seperate in some ways to the current issue of sending out a powerful message to the Middle East.

    To my mind one of the biggest problems with Al-Megrahi and his political baggage is that it does not ‘fit’ with the West’s current ethos on Terrorism. I think though it is more in line with how the West should act, notwithstanding that compassion should never be coupled with naivety in such high risk scenarios. Nevertheless, I would still take the view that compassion is key to understanding and there is a very good article I post below on US/Iranian relations and why they break down, which is pertinent to this topic in many ways.

    If we in the West understood how the Middle East thinks, we would be able to tackle Terrorism on a far more profound level.

    If anyone from the US State Department is reading this….please read the article below. To know your opposition is all!


  4. Speaking (ish) as a quasi-lawyer type (I studied in Edinburgh law school) – I as well as, in the spirit of disclose, being a member of the SNP – the discussion around Megrahi has been interesting. Not least because, despite certain politicians rushing to imagined partisan benefit, the more silly manifestations of tribal politics seem to have caught few folk that I’ve spoken to.

    Most people who have given ear to the arguments and synapses to the moral questions can furnish you with a view – and an argument – drawing on this idea or that. I’m profoundly keen on notions which charge the polity and challenge the society to think about its core norms and how the fundaments of justice – and her more inscrutable cousin, mercy – wield the sceptre in public life.

    Given my affiliations, I outlined something of my views here before the decision:


    I stand by that deliberation now. Folk are disposed, I think, to underestimate the degree of agreement which underlines cogent argument – and indeed, disagreement. Cultivating an agora where one can admit the cogency of the alternative position – and yet crucially, still disagree – is I think a difficult habitat for some people to envisage, and thus, even harder for them to realise. But possible. Crucially, if we determine to make it so, profoundly possible.

  5. Natasha – very interesting link… as per Tweet – thanks for observation.

    The more I read of internmational politics on the East – West terrorism issue – the more complex it becomes, the more difficult the issues… do the politicians have the time and patience to really listen, read and THINK? I don’t know if a lot of thinking is done… certainly there is a lot of rhetoric and point scoring…. I was saddened by the headline in the press recently “150 votes for four lives”

    This was, of course… a reference to the number of voters in Helmand province who voted in that area after 4 of our soldiers gave their lives to ensure the security of voters.

    Jaw Jaw rather than War War was said a long time ago…. I have a feeling that Sir Winston Churchill may have said it?

    What do we mere voters know eh?

  6. I’m a simple fellow who generally thinks in straight lines.

    The chap either did it or he didn’t.

    If he did, he should serve his sentence even if illness or disease cause it to be shorter than the court prescribed.

    If he didn’t, he should be freed. Illness or disease are irrelevant.

    I cannot see any sound reason for ill or dying prisoners to be released before they have served their time. All the arguments of so-called principle I’ve heard in favour of release seem to me no more than sentiment.

    The most common and most obvious argument is: “He’s an old man he’s only got a few months to live.” To that I ask the most useful question in a lawyer’s armory – so what?

    What has that got to do with anything? Why should someone die a free man when his conduct justified the deprivation of his freedom to beyond the time of his expected death? I just don’t get it.

    I am not a proponent of the death penalty within the British legal systems (except for politicians who promulgate war on the basis of lies) I do, however, accept that serious criminal conduct justifies deprivation of liberty.

    In part it’s preventative – he can’t do it again if he’s inside.

    In part it’s recompense to the victims and their survivors. Call it revenge if you will, but there is more to it than that. It is recognition that the loss suffered by victims (or their survivors) should be acknowledged and compensated for formally. The criminal justice system is part of the whole system of government – the system by which force can be used legitimately in the name of us all in circumstances where individual use of force would not be justified. Imposing penalties of varying degrees of severity is, in part, justified by the need to acknowledge the suffering of victims. More importantly, not only is it justified by that, but formal recognition of the suffering of victims is part of the reason for the penalty.

    In part it’s punitive. To my mind the punishment is no harsher if the man dies in the big house. The days of convicted felons being buried in prison grounds if they were still serving their sentence at the time of death has long passed.

    Something about this man’s release smells of political skulduggery. Whether or not that is so, I prefer the straight-line approach. Both the Scottish and English-Welsh systems of criminal law have developed over centuries. For all their faults they are an awful lot better than most countries can boast. I’ll stand by them until someone persuades me not to. His sentence has not been served, therefore he should not have been released.

  7. I agree with FatBigot’s very pragmatic approach and despite the horribly predictable and what appears to be embarassingly ugly assertions behind the ‘real’ reason this man was freed (see link below) I have just one problem with the notion of prison at it stands: it’s just not effective.

    Again, it is a temporary solution (even until death does it part) to a much bigger sociological phenomenon.

    To my mind, to argue it is preventative as a measure is only in part true: for whist it may prevent a particular offender from going out into the public arena and committing further crimes, entire generations are coming up behind men like Al-Megrahi more determined than ever to continue this kind of atrocity, as we have already seen.

    To assert it is some form of recompense is again, for me at least, only in part true and not wholely satisfactory as an answer. Men like Al-Megrahi get off too lightly being locked up. Having them do some form of intensive supervised community service, like having to stand up in front of audiences and explain why they did what they did, over and over again might be more useful and more punishing to say the least.

    And is prison really punitive? Looking at the bigger picture for a moment, prisoners in the main come from demographics in society that struggle more than most to survive; so who are we really punishing? These individuals for their lack of awareness or society for its flaws? In the end, you can only take a short term view or a long term view.

    I think this may be where Mr Bigot and I part company on the less than Black and White issue of it all – if this decision was really based on compassionate grounds (which I now doubt), perhaps there is a better way of dealing with criminals for both the individual and the society concerned. Then again, if governments were that dedicated to notions of simplicity and solution we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.


  8. Sir,

    Of course you are proud to be Scottish, it’s one of the few bragging rights we have left.

    Sadly though… that awfy eejit Mel Gibson’s face adorns one of our most important and significant monuments.

    Money and particuarly the lure of money, can be a dreadful thing. Shame on you Scotland for giving in to those fae Amerikay. A shade more stain of Libya and oil deals springs to mind.



  9. Charon qc, jealousy will get you nowhere.
    You realy should read my most recent essay on the supposed lord advocate for scotlsnd helish angiolini. Just anyone in the Scottish parliament for it; they all got it !

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