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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 10:21 GMT
Q&A: The appeal
Q and A graphic
After an historic trial, which ended on 31 January 2001, 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 returned to Libya.

The defendant who was found guilty lodged an appeal against his conviction. What happened then?

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

His lawyers then had six weeks in which to put in a full statement giving all their grounds of appeal. These were considered by a judge who sitting in private who decided whether or not to grant Al Megrahi leave to appeal.

On what grounds were the appeal 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.

Is there a mechanism for a "final appeal" beyond the court appeal in Holland?

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 was 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 many judges heard the appeal?

Because the trial has been held by three judges, it was necessary for five judges to hear the full appeal. 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 remained in custody at Camp Zeist.

What happened to the defendant who was found not guilty?

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

Lockerbie megapuff graphic

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31 Jan 01 | In Depth
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