Often, when making legal decisions, there is a clamour that we consider the opinions, feelings and position of the victims, and (especially in cases of murder) often this is defined loosely so as to include the victim’s family and friends. Over the past decade or so this has become increasingly enshrined in the actual making of decisions, with things like statements from the victims family becoming part and parcel of the legal process. During the debate over the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi last week these tried and tested invocations made many appearances. Most opponents of his release accused the Scottish Justice Minister of some disrespect or other towards the victims family.
But surely there’s a problem here. For every one of the victim’s families outraged by the decision there seems to be another who was in support of it. There seems to have been a split broadly correlating to the Atlantic Ocean, and last week ITV News had an extraordinary row between the mother of an American victim and the father of a British one (sadly I can’t find a clip online) over whether he should be released. This is no doubt in part due to the opinion of many of the British families that Megrahi was innocent, but even beyond that many are motivated by forgiveness and some sense of natural justice.
So how is ‘taking the victims’ families into account supposed to work in this case? Do we, as seems to be implied by the opponents of his release, give a veto to any member opposed to his release? Do we get them all in a room, caucus and take a vote? Perhaps they cancel each other out, or perhaps only some of their opinions should be considered, maybe some sort of representative panel? Or maybe, just maybe, should we think very, very carefully before giving the victims’ families any greater weight than anyone else in this decision?