The recent one year anniversary of the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, the man convicted in 1999 of the Lockerbie bombings, prompted me to to delve a little further behind the headlines. Al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds after doctors diagnosed him with terminal prostate cancer. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at exactly what the Scottish government would have to legally do to recall Al-Megrahi back to prison.
This short blog will not go into the political or legal issues of the prisoner transfer of Al-Megrahi to Libya, but will simply focus on the legal requirements that exist in Scotland to recall a prisoner released on compassionate grounds back to prison.
The current legislation in force governing the release of prisoners on compassionate grounds in Scotland is the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993. This Act allows Scottish Ministers, after consulting with the parole board, to release a long-term or life prisoner if they are satisfied that there are compassionate grounds justifying the release. The 1993 Act itself does not provide examples of situations in which compassionate release may be appropriate, but a circular issued by the Scottish Prisoner Service contains extensive guidance on the application of this section, including cases where a prisoner is suffering from a terminal illness.
The Act provides that a prisoner released on compassionate grounds may have their license revoked and be recalled back to prison if the Scottish Ministers either receive a recommendation from the Parole Board or consider the recall of the prisoner to be expedient in the public interest. The Scottish Prison Service circular notes that prisoners released under license on compassionate grounds must comply with the conditions of their license and that if their behavior is unsatisfactory they can be recalled to prison. It further states that:
If a prisoner, who has been granted compassionate release because of a terminal illness or other medical condition makes an unexpected recovery, consideration would be given to revocation of the license and the prisoners recall to custody.
The technical process involves the revocation of the license conditions and then the recall of the prisoner back to prison. If the prisoner fails to comply with these requirements, they are considered to be unlawfully at large. Since the enactment of this legislation, there have been no examples of a prisoner released on compassionate grounds being recalled back to prison.
A total of thirty-nine prisoners have been released on compassionate grounds between the years, 1993-2010 with twenty-six of those released between the years 2000-2010. Prisoners have survived for reasonably long periods of time after being released on compassionate grounds, although there is a definite difference in the longevity of prisoners released between the years 1993-2000 and 2000-2010.
The dates of release and dates of death of prisoners between 2000-2010 occur relatively close together, with few examples of individuals living longer than a few months. The dates of release and death for those in the period 1993-2000 demonstrate greater instances of longevity. For example there is one case in which a prisoner diagnosed with Alzheimers and severe dementia survived for over nine years after the date of release.
The current legislation is due to be replaced by the Custodial Sentence and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007, which has been enacted but not yet brought into force. There is a provision in this Act that states Scottish Ministers must recall a prisoner released on compassionate grounds if they are no longer satisfied that the grounds justifying the release of the prisoner exist.