Holyrood moves to close life prisoner loophole

From Democracy Live: Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill led the debate before MSPs passed the Criminal Cases Bill

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MSPs have moved to close a loophole where prisoners serving life sentences can apply for release on parole earlier than those serving fixed-length terms.

The measure was passed under the Criminal Cases Bill, which came in the wake of the case of former Edinburgh paedophile gang member Morris Petch.

Appeal judges cut his minimum sentence for raping two girls to eight years.

MSPs approved the Scottish government bill unanimously at Holyrood.

Ministers were also convinced to act following another decision by the appeal court to halve the minimum term given to Robert Foye, who raped a schoolgirl while on the run from prison.

Under the legislation, courts will regain powers to set the "punishment part" of sentences, which offenders must serve before being able to be considered for parole.

The bill also contains measures to officially permit publication of key information about the case of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

The report in question, by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which contained details on Megrahi's grounds for appeal sent to the appeal court, has already been put into the public domain.

The commission's report had been withheld because Megrahi, who died in May, abandoned his second appeal days before he was sent home to Libya on compassionate grounds relating to his terminal cancer.

In March, the Sunday Herald newspaper published the 821-page document, following assurances from the Crown Office that commission members would not be prosecuted for publishing details.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the legislation could still be relevant in future cases.

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