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Prisoner Release Decisions

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:35 am on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West 11:35 am, 20th October 2009

I apologise, Mr. Olner. I was totally in error in what I said, but people will get the gist of what I am trying to say.

A constituent of mine has a daughter who is in prison abroad, who is not, unfortunately, being dealt with using the same criteria as we use in this country. She has been convicted on the ground not of having committed a crime, but of being associated with the person who committed a crime. We have seen how in this country-I am referring to the al-Megrahi case because it is the one that has had all the coverage-someone receives the best of attention and help from solicitors and advocates, and generally from the Scottish judicial system. It would have been the same if the crime had been committed in England or Wales. Unfortunately, I cannot get the same treatment for the daughter of my constituent, who is in prison in the Dominican Republic.

We must look at such things in the round. We are in effect releasing people who have committed murder-in one case 270 murders-but my constituent's daughter is guilty only by association. I say that not because I know the judicial system in the Dominican Republic but because it was written on the court record when she was sentenced to eight years. I do not think that is fair, but we are more than a little fair to people in this country-we allow them to be released if they are not well and are going to die.

I worry that if, as the Prison Reform Trust has said, more and more people are living longer and getting to an age where they have no quality of life, we shall allow them to go free. If my wife had been in the aeroplane in question and had been killed I should be very unhappy if a prisoner were to be released because he was going to die in a certain space of time, and was in effect to be given some luxury and help. We saw the television scenes when Mr. al-Megrahi arrived in Libya, and that was probably what got the Scottish public going. I do not think that it was really the fact that he was let loose; it was more to do with the way it was portrayed in the media. It was a disgraceful situation, and we need to examine that.

I have said what I wanted to say. It is important that Members of Parliament should understand what is going on. I agree to some extent with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe that we must consider the question of who makes the decisions. He seemed to think that judges could do it, but the judges are the problem in some cases, not the solution. I hope that I do not come before one now that I have said that, but I have never had great faith in our judicial system, and what I have seen recently backs up my feelings. I do not think that the decision should be down to one individual. Kenny MacAskill has been vilified, rightly or wrongly, depending on what side of the political divide we are on. He had to make the decision, but it was not fair that he should do so. There must be a better way to ensure that victims' families are listened to, and are part of the process. If someone has been found guilty and granted an appeal, and is still found guilty, I believe that he probably is guilty. If his case goes to another appeal we should not drag it out, but should allow it to happen quickly. Perhaps that was the problem with the al-Megrahi case. If the second appeal had happened more quickly perhaps we would not be having this debate.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe for securing the debate, and I thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Olner.