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Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 17:16 GMT
Q&A: What now?
Q and A graphic
After an historic trial, one of the two Libyans accused of killing 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing was convicted of murder. The other was found not guilty and has returned to Libya. What happens now?

The defendant who has been found guilty has lodged an appeal against his conviction. What happens next?

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi's lawyers have lodged notice of his intention to appeal, within the two week time period allowed after conviction.

His lawyers then have six weeks in which to put in a full statement giving all their grounds of appeal. These will then be considered by one judge who will sit in private to decide whether or not to grant Al Megrahi leave to appeal, because there is no automatic right to an appeal.

If the judge grants leave, the appeal would be heard before five judges. It is likely to take place at the trial venue, Camp Zeist, so Al Megrahi can be present. If he chose not to attend, which is unlikely, the hearing could take place in Scotland.

How long is the process likely to last?

It is too early to say. It is likely to take a few months before a hearing could be arranged. It is thought that any appeal would certainly take far less time than the trial as it would focus merely on the grounds put forward by the defence team and the response of the prosecution to those points.

On what grounds could an appeal be lodged?

The only basis for an appeal under Scots law is that there has been a "miscarriage of justice". That phrase is not defined in statute and the courts have consistently refused to try to produce a definitive judgement of general application. So it is for the Appeal Court to determine the meaning of these words in the circumstances of every appeal case.

What could constitute a miscarriage of justice?

Precedents set by previous Scottish appeal cases show a miscarriage may occur firstly, where on the merits the appeal judges feel the conviction is unsafe. Concerns about the quantity or quality of the Crown evidence would be an example.

Secondly, there can be a procedural miscarriage of justice. It means the Appeal Court would look at some alleged procedural irregularity which, if sufficiently serious, may prove fatal to the conviction in the lower court.

What happens if an appeal is thrown out? Is there a mechanism for a "final appeal"?

Under the devolution settlement in which Scotland obtained its own parliament, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has a supervisory jurisdiction over constitutional matters within the UK. Failure by Scottish ministers to observe the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights can be taken to the Privy Council, which sits in Downing Street, London. It is therefore by no means impossible that the final determination of the Lockerbie case could be made by judges sitting in London just next door to the prime minister's house.

Would it not be difficult for the accused to argue against the judges' verdict?

Frequently, in the note of appeal the accused is arguing that the evidence against him was insufficient to justify conviction or that there was some procedural error. The Lockerbie case is peculiar in two respects. Firstly, because there is no jury the often-used ground of appeal that the judge misdirected the jury disappears. However, it would be possible, as in a civil case, for the accused to argue that the judges misdirected themselves in law.

Secondly, human rights points can be raised on appeal under the European Convention on Human Rights.

How is leave to appeal granted?

The procedure is that the case goes to a "sifting" judge, who considers it in chambers. If the judge rejects the appeal after considering the papers, the accused person still has the right to demand that the question of leave to appeal is considered by the full court of three judges. If either the single judge or the full bench of three judges grants leave, then the matter will proceed to a full hearing at a later date.

How many judges would hear the appeal?

Because the trial has been held by three judges, it would be necessary for five judges to hear the full appeal should that proceed. An accused person is guaranteed the right to attend an appeal hearing in Scotland, should they so wish. The Lockerbie case is not peculiar in that regard. The peculiarity, however, is that Megrahi will remain in custody at Camp Zeist after conviction if he appeals. The five judges would then travel to Camp Zeist to hold the appeal hearing there.

What happened to the defendant who was found not guilty?

Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah left Camp Zeist in the Netherlands and returned to Libya.

Could the Crown appeal against this not guilty verdict?

The Crown has no right of appeal - once somebody is found not guilty, it is an end to the matter as far as they are concerned.

The Crown could ask the Scottish appeal court to determine an interesting point of law from the trial, but that would not affect the acquittal already recorded.

What does this mean for the sanctions against Libya?

United Nations sanctions, which included a ban on flights, weapons and some oil equipment, were suspended in 1999, after Tripoli surrendered the two men for trial.

Technically they are still valid. Certain criteria must be fulfilled by Libya before the sanctions are fully removed. These include disclosing all it knows about the bombing and paying compensation.

No timetable for the lifting has been set but diplomats from the UN, Britain and Libya said last week they were reviewing the penalties. America has sounded more cautious about lifting its own sanctions on Tripoli.

What will the relatives of the victims do now?

Some years ago relatives of the American victims started a civil law suit to recover more than $10bn damages from the Libyan government.

Speaking after the verdict, Peter Lowenstein, whose son died in the explosion, said the civil case would be restarted. Relatives feel Megrahi's conviction has bolstered their case that the Libyan government was linked to the bombing.

Families of UK victims want a public inquiry in a bid to get answers to the many questions raised by the trial.

Lockerbie megapuff graphic


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