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banner Monday, 8 January, 2001, 21:20 GMT
Analysis: Conclusion of Lockerbie evidence
Zeist court
The court has been sitting for eight months
Alistair Bonnington, a member of the University of Glasgow's Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit and a BBC Scotland lawyer, gives his analysis of developments at Camp Zeist.

The surprise decision by the defence to close their case without calling the accused, Megrahi, must be assessed in the overall context of standard Scottish criminal law and procedure.

There is no onus in any Scottish criminal case on the defence to prove anything, so it is perfectly normal for the defence to lead no evidence whatsoever.

In fact, the high-point of many prosecutions is when the accused is cross-examined by the Crown.

Often the accused is tripped up at this stage and gives evidence which contributes to a conviction.

Alistair Bonnington
Alistair Bonnington: A unique case
For that reason, the defence are normally anxious to avoid the accused being called to the witness box.

In the case of the first accused, Megrahi, it is clear that his defence team felt that there is a sufficient case against him to prove at least parts of the indictment.

They made no submission on Megrahi's behalf that there was "no case to answer".

However, that does not necessarily mean that they have to lead evidence to rebut the Crown case.

They could concentrate on the quality of the crown evidence in their final address to the judges, who are sitting in court from this point onwards as a jury.

Put simply, Megrahi's team can say that it would be unsafe to convict on the evidence which is before the court.

Trial details
The two accused are Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, 48, and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, 44
Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing all 259 people on board and another 11 on the ground
The two men deny three charges - murder, conspiracy to murder and a breach of the 1982 Aviation Security Act
The trial is taking place in a Scottish courtroom at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands
The case is being heard by a panel of Scottish judges
They will argue that the high standard required by Scots law of proof "beyond reasonable doubt" has not been reached.

In the case of Fhimah, his lawyers unsuccessfully submitted that there was no case to answer.

Again, it does not follow that their failure in the submissions means that they must lead evidence.

They, too, can submit that the quality, as opposed to the quantity, of evidence is unsatisfactory.

One of the interesting and unique aspects of the Lockerbie case is that in a solemn prosecution the normal Scottish jury of 15 lay persons has been replaced by three professional judges.

This may well work to the disadvantage of the defence.

Whilst it is relatively easy for defence lawyers to persuade jurors that certain witnesses are untruthful and therefore none of their evidence can be relied upon, it is much more likely that judges will exercise a discerning assessment of the evidence of such witnesses, picking and choosing which elements of their testimony should be believed.

At the end of the speeches to the judges, there will be three verdicts open to the court, namely, guilty, not guilty and not proven.

The court at Camp Zeist
The Lockerbie trial could be over by the end of the month
Both not guilty and not proven result in an acquittal.

The accused cannot be retried after a return of either of these two verdicts.

If the verdict is one of guilty, the defence can appeal to a court of five judges.

If this happens, the judges will have to sit in Zeist if the accused wish to be present throughout the conduct of the appeal.

It may be expected that, if there is an appeal, it will concentrate on points under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, viz the "fair trial" article, which have been made on a fairly regular basis throughout the conduct of this case.

Human rights came into effect in Scotland in criminal cases in May 1999, so they apply to the whole of the Lockerbie prosecution.

They did not come into force in the rest of the UK until 2 October 2000.

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | Lockerbie Trial
Lockerbie defence cut short
31 Dec 00 | Scotland
Moderator to visit Lockerbie prison
21 Dec 00 | Scotland
Tribute on Lockerbie anniversary
05 Dec 00 | Lockerbie Trial
Lockerbie defence case begins
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