USIS Washington File

05 November 1999

Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit Discusses Trial of Libyan Suspects

(Trial for Pan Am 103 suspects to be "Scottish trial of the century")
By Rick Marshall
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A team of law professors from the University of Glasgow
in Scotland have established the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit to
provide expert information on the upcoming trial of two Libyans who
are suspected of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988. The
explosion killed all 259 of the flight's crew and passengers as well
as 11 people on the ground in the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The
flight was en route from London to New York.

The two suspects, Abdelbaset Ali Mohammed Al Megrahi and Al Amin
Khalifa Fhimah, have been charged with three counts: murder,
conspiracy to murder and contravention of the Aviating Security Act of

For years Libya refused to surrender the men, only doing so this year
after several years of international sanctions and a decision by the
United Nations Security Council to accept a proposal to hold the trial
in a neutral country.

As it turned out, the trial will take place in the Netherlands
beginning in February. It will be conducted under Scottish law by a
panel of three Scottish judges.

"The trial will be the international trial of the decade, but it will
be the Scottish trial of the century," according to Professor John
Grant of the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit. "It involves allegations
of the largest mass murder in Scottish legal history. It will be the
first occasion that a Scottish criminal court has sat abroad. It will
be the first time that charges of this seriousness have been heard
without a jury. It will probably be the longest and most expensive
trial in Scottish legal history."

"But, in a sense, all these 'firsts' do not matter," Grant wrote in
the handbook which the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit is distributing.
"What is important is that those thought responsible for the tragic
loss of 270 lives should be brought to trial: the families of those
who perished in Lockerbie in 1988 deserve no less. And it is equally
important that two suspects have their day in court; if they are not
responsible for the tragedy, then they deserve to have their names
cleared and to be released."

The two Libyans were served their formal indictments on October 29th.
According to Clare Connelly, a specialist in Scotland's criminal law,
they cannot be convicted of more than one of the three charges upon
which they were indicted. The punishment for both murder and
contravention of the Aviation Security Act of 1982 is life
imprisonment. There is no prescribed punishment for a conviction for
conspiracy to murder; hence any punishment would be at the discretion
of the court.

Another member of the university's Lockerbie unit, Professor Fraser
Davidson, said the prosecution has reportedly already lined up a
thousand witnesses.

According to Scottish law, "the burden of proof is on the Crown," the
Glasgow professors have written in their Lockerbie trial handbook.
"The Crown must prove its case to a high standard, which is expressed
in the words 'beyond reasonable doubt.' The Crown therefore commences
the trial by calling its witnesses. The defense lawyers are allowed to
cross-examine each witness. Leading questions are allowed in
cross-examination. After cross-examination is completed, the Crown has
the opportunity to re-examine the witness."

Scottish criminal procedure provides for three possible outcomes of
any trial: guilty, not guilty and not proven. The rules governing the
trial in the Netherlands "specifically state that all decisions,
including the verdict, are to be taken by at least two (of the three)
judges," the handbook notes.

The Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit has a special website dedicated to
the trial. It is

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)