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Monday, April 5, 1999 Published at 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK


Analysis: Legal firsts for Lockerbie trial

Camp Zeist: Designated as Scottish for the trial

The handover of the Libyans accused of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has cleared the way for an unprecedented legal event.

A small part of the Netherlands has been designated as Scottish to allow the trial to take place.

The compromise deal brokered by Nelson Mandela last year to allow for the handover of the suspects hinged on the trial being held in a neutral country, but under Scottish law.

It is expected to be the longest in Scottish legal history and has only been made possible with the signing of a special treaty by the UK and Dutch Governments.

Scottish lawyer Donald Finlay QC discusses whether the Libyans will receive a fair trial
Another crucial document, a UN Order in Council giving effect to Security Council resolutions relating to the trial documents, was drawn up when the compromise was agreed.

The Dutch have agreed to provide accommodation for the court, but only ''for the sole purpose, and for the duration, of the trial".

[ image:  ]
An area of Soesterberg air base - known as Camp Zeist - near The Hague is to be the venue, and the Dutch authorities will be responsible for its external security.

Provision has been made for the accused to be held in the court building prior to and during the proceedings.

Costs incurred by the Dutch authorities will be met by the UK.

The UK Government has guaranteed that the accused will not be taken to the UK unless they say they want to be tried by jury in Scotland or, if they are convicted, to serve out their sentence in a Scottish prison.

The legal framework

[ image: Forsenic experts examined the wreckage]
Forsenic experts examined the wreckage
Serious offences in Scotland are normally tried with a jury. But there will be no jury in this case.

The Lord Justice Clerk, one of the country's most senior legal officers, will appoint three judges to hear the case.

A fourth judge will be appointed to sit in the court, but not take any in the decision unless one of the judges dies or is absent for a prolonged period.

But in other ways the case will follow the procedure of Scottish law, itself quite different from that of England and Wales.

[ image: The bombing claimed the lives of 270 people]
The bombing claimed the lives of 270 people
Within 48 hours of their arrest the accused will be brought before a sheriff ''for examination'' as the initial stage of the prosecution.

They will be questioned, behind closed doors, by the procurator fiscal.

The accused have the right to chose not to answer any questions, but a shorthand writer will be present at the hearing.

No decision will be made on the evidence and whether or not there is a case to answer at this point.

Legal consultant Len Murray: Trial "very much a one-off"
Scottish law has strict rules as to the length of time it takes for a case to go to trial, but because of the complexity of this case they are expected to be specially extended.

If the accused want to lodge a special defence - for example, blaming someone else - that must be done before the trial gets under way.

Scots law allows for ''persons unknown'' to be identified as the culprits.

There will then be no opening speeches. The trial begins with witnesses being called and the prosecution must prove its case ''beyond reasonable doubt''.

The judges must give written reasons for any conviction and that result must be reached by a majority verdict.

If a conviction is secured, the men will be able to appeal to a panel of five judges.

But Scottish law allows for a third verdict to be reached - ''not proven''. This is an acquittal and a person cannot be tried again if that verdict is passed.

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05 Apr 99 | World
Lockerbie suspects head for trial

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Glasgow University: Lockerbie Trial Briefing

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