Page last updated at 20:50 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 21:50 UK

Bomber ruling 'within two weeks'

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi
The Scottish Government will decide Megrahi's fate within days

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will deliver a decision on the fate of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing within the next two weeks.

A spokeswoman said he had only received final submissions and advice on Friday.

Mr MacAskill will decide if Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi can be freed or allowed to serve out his jail term in Libya.

The Foreign Office has also made clear that it sees no international legal obstacle to prevent the Scottish Government returning Megrahi to Libya.

A spokeswoman told the BBC that the opinion applied to both the possibilities of prisoner transfer and compassionate release.

It is the first public contribution the Foreign Office has made beyond a statement stressing that the final decision was "exclusively for Scottish ministers".

Meanwhile, the first minister responded to calls for parliament to reconvene by saying that the decision would not be influenced by party politics.

Speaking in Aberdeen, Alex Salmond said the timescale regarding the announcement of a decision on Megrahi would be outlined to the Scottish Cabinet on Tuesday.

'Judicial matter'

But he said those urging the recall of parliament had to realise that Mr MacAskill would not be influenced by politics and once he had made his decision he would announce it to parliament in the normal way.

The first minister said: "It is a matter in which the cabinet secretary for justice operates in a judicial way.

"He is not influenced by world power politics, by press speculation or party politics."

Mr Salmond said Mr MacAskill had a "weighty responsibility".

No date has been set for an announcement because he hasn't reached a decision and that is still the position
Scottish Government spokeswoman

"Once he makes the decision, he's accountable to parliament, as the whole government is, but he cannot be placed in a position where he's being influenced by party politics," he said.

Political pressure has been mounting for an urgent statement on the issue to be made to the Scottish Parliament.

But the parliament's presiding officer rejected the calls.

Alex Fergusson said: "I have weighed up all the factors very carefully and have taken the decision not to recall parliament at this time."

Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, has applied for either release on compassionate grounds or a transfer to a Libyan jail.

An application was lodged last week to drop his appeal against conviction, a move which could clear the way for the second course of action.

There have also been reports that the Scottish Government intends to release him due to his health problems.

However, it has consistently denied that Mr MacAskill had reached any verdict.

Pam Am flight 103 wreckage in field in Lockerbie
Relatives of the victims are divided over the possible release of Megrahi

A spokeswoman said: "He will make an announcement as soon as possible.

"No date has been set for that announcement because he hasn't reached a decision and that is still the position.

"We are hoping to have it as soon as possible - certainly within the next couple of weeks."

Labour's Scottish justice spokesman Richard Baker had called for "due consideration" to be given to recalling the Scottish Parliament for a statement on the subject.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott also backed such a move.

He said: "I do think it's very important that MSPs have an opportunity to ask the first minister what in heaven's name he's doing?"

He said the issue was being "very incompetently handled".

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken said an immediate decision needed to be taken on Megrahi's future.

He added: "When it is, the first minister must recall the Scottish Parliament to justify his actions."

The presiding officer said: "Although I have not agreed to a recall at this stage, I would fully expect the parliament to scrutinise this matter at the earliest opportunity once a decision has been made."

Mr Fergusson added that he would review the matter in light of any significant new developments.

'Under pressure'

Last week the BBC reported that it understood Megrahi would soon be released on compassionate grounds.

This prompted a mixed reaction from relatives and renewed political opposition from the US.

It was subsequently revealed that the Libyan had applied to drop his second appeal against his conviction.

That led to claims that Megrahi had been put under pressure to abandon his efforts to clear his name.

A court hearing will take place in Edinburgh on Tuesday into his application to drop his appeal.

If that takes place, it would remove one potential obstacle to his transfer to a prison in Libya.

Megrahi is currently serving a life sentence with a minimum of 27 years after being convicted in 2001 of the 1988 bombing which killed 270 people.



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