Friday, 24 July 2015

News breaks in US of neutral venue Lockerbie trial

[What follows is the transcript of a news report that was broadcast on Voice of America on this date in 1998:]

Byline - Delia Robertson
Dateline - Johannesburg

Intro: The suspects in the 1988 Pan Am aircraft bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland may finally come to trial, in a compromise deal negotiated by Scottish law professor Robert Black. V-O-A's Delia Robertson talked to professor Black, who is now in South Africa on a sabbatical from the university of Edinburgh.

Robertson: Robert Black says it has taken Britain and the United States more than four years to accept a compromise that may finally bring to trial the two Libyan suspects in the 1988 bombing of a Pan American aircraft over Scotland. Professor Black, law professor at Scotland's Edinburgh university, says it is shameful it has taken so long.

Black: And it is particularly galling for the families I think, that Britain and the United States are now saying that they are the ones who were putting forward this means of resolving the logjam. In fact this proposal for resolving the logjam was submitted to those two governments four and a half years ago, and up till this week they have adamantly refused even to consider it. In my view that is disgraceful.

Robertson: The compromise for bringing the suspects to trial will mean the trial will be conducted in a neutral country -- possibly the Netherlands -- and without a jury. However, the trial will be held under Scottish law, presided over by a Scottish judge and will include a panel of judges selected by the British government.

Up until now, Britain and the United States have insisted on a trial by jury and also that it take place in Scotland or the United States. Professor Black says the Libyan suspects' lawyer refused to bring his clients before a jury trial because of the wide publicity surrounding the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in which 270 people were killed.

Black: And the lockerbie incident has had so much publicity there, their view (suspects lawyers view is) that their clients could not get a fair trial because the jurors already have partially made up their minds because of pretrial publicity.

Robertson: Professor Black is in South Africa as a visiting professor at the University of Stellenbosch and is completing a book on Scottish law of evidence. He told V-O-A he was prompted to try and find a resolution to the Lockerbie trial impasse because he was born and raised in Lockerbie and considers himself a citizen of the town.

He said after extensive negotiations in 1994 with the suspects' lawyer, he received an undertaking the Libyans would attend a trial in a neutral country.

Black: After considerable negotiation, he agreed to those proposals and he gave me an undertaking -- in writing -- that if such a court were set up, his clients would attend for trial before it. And I also got the agreement of the Libyan government at that time, in january 1994, that they would permit their citizens to stand trial before such a court.

Robertson: The Organization of African Unity has decided to end United Nations sanctions against Libya within months because they say Libya has made concessions after at first refusing to allow its citizens to be tried by a U-S or Scottish court. Professor Black says this is what compelled Britain and the United States to accept the compromise.

Black: They, the member states of the Organization Of African Unity, would not any longer comply with United Nations sanctions against Libya as from September of this year. Now you see I think that is the real pressure that has caused Britain and United States to change their position, because the whole system involving sanctions against Libya was beginning to crumble.

Robertson: While many victims' families in the United States continue to demand a jury trial in the United States or Scotland, those in Britain have accepted the compromise proposal. Professor Black says they want two things: that the evidence be tested before an independent tribunal and that if found guilty, the suspects are punished. He says this can be achieved if the suspects are tried in a Scottish court sitting in a neutral country.

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