Monday, August 24, 2009

Going gently into the good night...

Embarrassingly, it seems that my technical ability doesn't even extend to preventing my humble thoughts from going gently into the good night. It seems that the website I use decided to remove my blog from public view for no apparent reason. I apologise sincerely for any confusion.

So, this Libyan fella then... Those who read Private Eye will be familiar with the evidence that led to his conviction. Basically, when the airliner was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, the debris was scattered widely. Months after the accident a fragment of timer was found in a wood, with an item of clothing attached. The label showed Malta as the country of origin, and a Maltese shopkeeper identified the defendant as the person who bought the clothing, which the prosecution said, was wrapped around the bomb. This man now lives in a rather large villa in Australia, which some say, almost inevitably, was paid for by the US government.

The chap couldn't be released with an appeal pending, so that was withdrawn. The prisoner exchange programme was ruled out, and that left compassionate release.

We're told he only has 3 months to live. So let's see if he does a Ronnie and recovers upon release, or whether he passes away. In any event, the old bloke who got off the plane in Libya might not have looked like it, but he is this month's political football.

270 dead, worst terrorist attack ever. Evidence not great, but convicted under scotch-ish law (that may not be the proper legal term), served a good stretch, apparently only got a matter of weeks left. Clearly, dying with your loved ones is preferable to dying in a foreign jail (some would say, don't commit crimes abroad then).

Would you have released him? Would you release everyone who was dying? If yes to the first and no to the second, why?


  1. In light of this case and that of Biggs, I have thought a fair bit about compassionate release (a subject I have never really considered before).

    I feel we need to have some sort of compassion when a prisoner is dying. But I don't necessarily think this should be in the form of release. I think it's very difficult to balance the two sides of the argument.

    Personally I can't justify releasing people who have committed these atrocities. One must consider the effect on the living victims (original victims, families etc).

    But I think compassion is needed, otherwise how can we criticise those who lack compassion in other parts of the world. Furthermore, one must remember that these prisoners also have families, and the effect on them must be considered, why should they be deprived of final moments with their loved one.

    So what's the solution? I have no idea. But at the moment I think something along the lines of the following would be a better compromise. I think a less severe imprisonment would be appropriate, this would allow the prisoner and his family to have their final moments. Equally it would ensure that the prisoners don't go totally free. Almost like a home arrest or a lower category prison with wide visitation rights.

    I apologise for the many mistakes that are in this comment, but it's late and I'm tired.

  2. No and No.

    A life sentence should mean dying behind bars.

    All this talk of "compassion".... where was his compassion when he put the bomb on the plane?

  3. Good to see you're back . . . it is you, isn't it? You haven't been Nightjacked then impersonated by a NuLab spin doctor, have you?


  4. Welcome back, AP. You had us worried there.

    On topic:

    I really don't think this is the best case to headline a discussion of compassionate release, as it seems to me that the 'not great' evidence and the arguably less-than-due process adds up to the possibility of a serious miscarriage of justice. So my thoughts are coloured by that. As, I imagine, are those of lots of other people much more closely involved.

    However, laying that aside for now, I have some concerns about compassionate release.

    Part of me fears the slippery slope that a universal use of compassionate release on the grounds of terminal illness would effectively give licence to those already terminally ill to commit whatever crimes they wish without fear of the law. I know that sounds stupid and extreme, but the mere possibility of putting a section of the public, however ill, beyond the law, worries me.

    So I would certainly not release everyone who was dying.

    I am also concerned about the possibility of a new breed of dodgy doctors emerging who are willing to certify imminent death.

    However, I see no point in spending public money in setting guards to attend someone so ill in hospital that they are incapable of escape, and see no reason that those tied to their death bed should be a further drain on the public purse. That's not about the ethics of release though, it is about not spending money on stupid things.

    And yet, I like my justice system compassionate. Maybe those who have served a long sentence away from their families should be allowed their last days or weeks away from prison and with their loved ones - as much for the loved ones as for them. I would - probably - restrict this to those who have served a significant part of their sentence and who have people to go back to. In fact I would probably change the process a bit and instead of it being a 'release from custody', make it a 'release into the custody of' a hospital or a family or a person. That I think strikes the correct balance between recognising that he is still under sentence but that the sentence is going to be determined by death rather than by the Home Secretary or whoever does it these days.

    Back to this Libyan fellow then. Where there is an appeal against conviction, that appears to have a good chance of success, that cannot be completed before the prisoners expected death, then we should consider that the appeal might succeed. In which case it would be inhumane to deny someone who may well always have been innocent the opportunity to spend his last time with his family.

    So yes, I'd have released him.

    But, and this makes me really cross, we shouldn't make him drop the damned appeal as a precondition and deny the chance of his name ever being cleared. That would be an appalling injustice.


  5. I will add, having thought a bit more, that I think the proper approach in the Libyan case would have been to accelerate the appeal process and give the man at least a chance of going home a free man for undisputedly right reasons.

  6. We can rant and rave all we want, politicians will do whatever they want and put a suitable spin on it to make it right (..." followed due process"... whatever that could be made to mean)

    That self-serving scottish 'person' will now write a book and make money out of it. I don't believe he paid much attention to what's right and what's wrong, he just got his rocks off with his thumb up/down decision

  7. Danny, that's a very considered viewpoint, and I am encouraged that people are thinking about it, and aren't just making snap decisions, saying, effectively, "rot in jail".

    AndyC, you're the flip side of the coin. The person who put the bomb on the plane indeed showed a total lack of compassion, but it's rather questionable whether that was in fact the doddery old bloke seen hobbling onto a plane.

    Ray, to reassure you that I'm not a spin doctor, please see my next post...

    Phisheep, as ever, thought provoking. I wish he was able to keep going with his appeal. A higher court still will resolve that in due course. The suggested existence of which should irritate...

    Atheist Ranter. I echo your thoughts that this man was a little excited at being at the centre of events. Why, for example, did he feel he needed to visit the chap in prison?

  8. No and No.
    Do the crime, do the time.

    Let the thought of dying alone in a foreign prison be part of the deterrent to criminality.

    Compassion here should be to the families of the victims. Care to wager how long this geezer lasts now that he's got all the comforts of home and celebrity status- while his victims are in the grave.

  9. Yes and yes. Not even because I think the evidence was far too tenuous for a conviction, and tend to believe Robert Fisk's argument in The Independent that Al-Megrahi was released so as to prevent the new evidence relating to his appeal from being aired. I'm sure Kenny MacAskill was told what to say and I expect he'll now be hung out to dry.

  10. Persevero, I was actually really looking forward to the evidence coming out in the Criminal Cases Review Commission. That the case had been referred is a good indicator; the commission is notoriously hard to persuade to intervene. I think that you may be closer than you think to the reality.

    I'm now just waiting for Brown to admit discussing oil and gas contracts with Gadaffi at G8...

  11. I found the official indignation from various oppostion MPs and the USA rather unconvincing. What would be more embarrassing? Releasing him on compassionate grounds, or him winning the appeal.

  12. Lord Denning had the right idea- the death sentence stops this merry-go-round of appeals and if the odd innocent bloke is topped well that's abit of bad luck( unless you are Mr unlucky).
    Having said that our Libyan friend is just a pawn and Mr Gaddafi Duck is someone that you have to check you still have your fingers if you shake hands, so relying on any undertaking given by him or hisodd regime was asking for trouble.