Lord Fraser’s Inquiry into the ever-rising costs of the Holyrood building for the Scottish Parliament (see No. 275) adjourned its public sessions on 17 December 2003, having essentially worked its way through events up to the point when the project was handed over to the Corporate Body of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The inquiry will resume its public sittings on 4 February 2004. In the meantime counsel to the inquiry and Lord Fraser will be studying the documentation arising from the period after the handover. The issue between the inquiry and the BBC about the unpublished film interviews with Donald Dewar and Enric Miralles (see No 285) remains unresolved, although there are suggestions that the BBC will allow Lord Fraser to view the tapes privately. The issues arising from the inquiry so far are well summarised by the BBC Scotland political editor, Brian Taylor, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3330529.stm. The major questions are (1) the haste with which the decision to go for the Holyrood site was taken once it was known to be available (although this probably had nothing to do with the subsequent increase in costs); (2) the early estimate of £40 million was for a straightforward building on an open-field site – but was this figure chosen to ease the path of the Yes vote in the 1997 referendum? (the first estimate for the actual Holyrood building was £83 million); (3) the choice of Miralles as architect, despite uncertainty about his reliability and insurance cover; (4) lack of concern about costs in the committee chaired by the late Donald Dewar to select the designer and the designs to be used, and its emphasis on creating a landmark building; (5) Mr Dewar’s decision not to leave the project to the Parliament itself; (6) the inclusion of Bovis amongst the shortlist of management contractors for the project although the company was not amongst the lowest tenderers, and its subsequent success in the tendering competition (the possible failure to follow EC public procurement rules has led some of the unsuccessful contractors to consider the possibility of court actions for damages against responsible parties); and (6) the failure of Scottish Office and Scottish Executive civil servants to inform Mr Dewar about the reality of escalating costs and tensions in the project team as work proceeded, with the Parliament itself being misinformed about the matter as a result. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether the actual building will in fact be complete and ready for occupation in July 2004, as currently expected officially.
The Scottish Executive has ordered Brenda Kutchinsky, owner of the Pennan Inn in Aberdeenshire, to repaint the walls of her property with whitewash, replacing the aqua blue with which she had covered the walls in the summer of 2003. This had led to complaints from visitors to Pennan, most of whom come because the coastal village nestling at the foot of cliffs overlooking the Moray Firth, and its inn and phonebox, featured strongly in the 1980s film, Local Hero. Mrs Kutchinsky failed to obtain planning permission from Aberdeenshire Council before carrying out her renovation, and an appeal for retrospective permission, first to the council and then to the Executive, has failed. Mrs Kutchinsky, who complains about being forced to live in a film set, points out that historically Pennan’s houses were red (because of the stone used to build them) and that before the film the inn was painted aqua-marine. The Scottish Executive takes the view, however, that blue is entirely out of context with the established colour of the area”.
Nicky Walker, the Scotland rugby player whose trial for assault was postponed (see No 262) to allow him to go to Australia with the Scotland squad for the World Cup (won, alas! by England – but of course well done to Clive Woodward and his merry men), was tried in Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 12 December 2003 and, having been found guilty, was fined £300. He also offered to pay for the dental treatment needed by his victim (Walker is 6′ 4 tall and weighs 17 stone). Walker had not been selected for any of the Scottish games in the World Cup. His main consolation therefore was the comment of Sheriff Kevin Drummond: “I accept that you are a young man of previous good character and have not previously been in trouble of any kind. You have accepted responsibility for your error of judgement and have expressed remorse and regret for your action. That is to your credit.””
On 18 December 2003 the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC lodged an appeal against the punishment part sentencing of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber. Megrahi is currently serving a life sentence for the Lockerbie bombing, following his conviction at the High Court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in 2001 and on 24 November 2003, at a hearing in Glasgow, the High Court ordered that he serve a ‘punishment part’ of 27 years before he would be eligible for consideration for parole (see No 282). In appealing against this decision the Lord Advocate is challenging the view of the Court that 30 years is the maximum punishment part which could be imposed on an individual. He is also arguing that the period of 27 years in this particular case is unduly lenient. In keeping with the Convention Rights (Compliance) (Scotland) Act 2001, legislation enacted to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, all prisoners serving a life sentence must be brought before the High Court so that the Court can determine the minimum period which they must serve as a ‘punishment part’ before they are eligible to be considered for release on licence by the independent Parole Board for Scotland. This legislation replaced the previous procedure under which the sentencing Court could recommend a minimum period before which the prisoner should be considered for release on licence, but under which release was ultimately a question for Ministers. Under the law now in force a life prisoner cannot be considered for release on licence until he has served the punishment part period; his release thereafter is a matter for the Parole Board for Scotland, which requires to consider the risk which he may present to the public.
Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrod’s, is seeking judicial review in the Court of Session of the Lord Advocate’s refusal of a public inquiry in Scotland into the death of his son and Diana, Princess of Wales in Paris in August 1997. He believes his ownership of Balnagown Castle in Easter Ross should give him access to the Scottish legal system. Mr Fayed argues that under the European Convention on Human Rights he is entitled as next-of-kin to be properly informed of the cause of his son’s death because there are grounds for supposing that his death was unlawful. The case began on 15 December 2003. Mr Fayed was reported as saying: Still I believe I will get justice here in Scotland. My first home is here, I have lived here for 35 years and all the time you pray to God that things can be done fairly with all the means that I can have. Mr Fayed has previously lost a judicial review case in Scotland when he challenged a decision of the Inland Revenue to withdraw from an agreement with him and other members of his family in relation to their tax liability (see Fayed v Commissioners of Inland Revenue, 31 May 2002, Lord Justice Clerk Gill); but Lord Gill held that the agreement had been ultra vires the Inland Revenue. Although Mr Fayed then launched an appeal, subsequently in May 2003 he announced that he was going to live permanently in Switzerland, because of the unfairness of the Revenue to him in this matter (see his website, http://www.alfayed.com).